Ravens -2.5 the NFL Pick vs. Big Ben-Less Steelers On Thursday Night Football

Matthew Jordan

Tuesday, September 29, 2015 12:10 PM UTC

Tuesday, Sep. 29, 2015 12:10 PM UTC

Here's something I didn't expect to see this season: Pittsburgh as a home underdog. The Steelers are +2.5 on BetOnline NFL odds because they won't have Ben Roethlisberger on Thursday.

Vick Gets The Call
Roethlisberger strained the MCL in his left knee (and suffered a bone bruise) in Sunday's 12-6 win over St. Louis. In the third quarter, Rams safety Mark Barron sacked Roethlisberger after coming on a blitz, hitting him just below his left knee. Roethlisberger went down and immediately grabbed at the knee before the play was whistled dead. He is going to miss 4-6 weeks, a potentially killer blow to the Steelers' chances of repeating as AFC North champion. It was a borderline illegal hit but as of now Barron hasn't been disciplined by the NFL, and he wasn't penalized on the play. In 2009, the league clarified its quarterback protection rules to include below-the-knee hits from defenders on the ground. The impetus was the torn ACL suffered by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in Week 1 of the 2008 season. Here's the passage from the rule book:

"A rushing defender is prohibited from forcibly hitting in the knee area or below a passer who has one or both feet on the ground, even if the initial contact is above the knee. It is not a foul if the defender is blocked (or fouled) into the passer and has no opportunity to avoid him." The rule includes two footnotes: "(1) A defender cannot initiate a roll or lunge and forcibly hit the passer in the knee area or below, even if he is being contacted by another player. (2) It is not a foul if the defender swipes, wraps or grabs a passer in the knee area or below in an attempt to tackle him."

Roethlisberger had his best season in 2014 and was completing 75.3 percent of his passes this year for 912 yards, four scores and four picks. Thursday will be Roethlisberger's first missed start since 2012. He has missed only 17 starts total in his 12 NFL seasons. Michael Vick will now start. He was only signed late in camp when former No. 2 Bruce Gradkowski was lost to injury. Vick was 5-for-6 for 389 yards vs. St. Louis. He's clearly a shell of his former Pro Bowl self. Vick is just 6-13 in his past 19 starts.

There was some good news from Sunday's win: the season debut of Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell from his two-game suspension. He carried 19 times for 62 yards and a touchdown. He also caught seven passes for 70 yards. The team will rely even more on him now. Thursday is the final game of Pittsburgh receiver Martavis Bryant's suspension. It's not clear yet if the Steelers will have linebacker Ryan Shazier after he missed the Rams game with a shoulder issue.

The Steelers are 3-0 ATS on NFL picks this season and 1-2 'over/under.'


Ravens In Desperation Mode
Baltimore, a Super Bowl pick by the likes of Sports Illustrated's Peter King, is a shocking 0-3, although those losses have been by only a combined 14 points. The Ravens lost their home opener in Week 3, 28-24 to Cincinnati to fall to 0-3 for the first time in franchise history. They simply couldn't guard Cincinnati star receiver A.J. Green, who caught 10 balls for 227  yards and two scores. After the Ravens took the lead twice in the fourth quarter, Green answered with touchdowns each time as cornerback Jimmy Smith couldn't bring Green down on an 80-yard score and got beat in the end zone on a 7-yard one.

Joe Flacco had a solid game for the Ravens, completing 32 of 49 for 362 yards, two scores and a pick. Steve Smith caught 13 of those balls for 186 yards and two scores. But Baltimore had only 36 yards rushing on 18 carries.  Two Ravens starters sat out vs. Cincinnati: left tackle Eugene Monroe (concussion) and defensive end Chris Canty (calf). Both are in question here.

Since 1990, only 2.4 percent of teams that started 0-3 advanced to the postseason. The Ravens are the last active NFL team to go winless in their first three games.

Baltimore is 0-3 against the spread on NFL odds this season and 2-1 O/U.


Last Season
Baltimore hosted the Steelers in Week 2 on a Thursday and won 26-6, easily the Steelers' worst offensive game of the year. That was the game right after the Ravens released Ray Rice. In Week 9 last year in Pittsburgh, the Steelers won 43-23. Roethlisberger threw for 340 yards and six touchdowns. The Ravens have won six of the past 10 regular-season matchups against the Steelers. Seven of those 10 matchups have been decided by three or fewer points. The teams also met in Pittsburgh in the divisional round and the Ravens won 30-17. The Steelers didn't have the injured Bell for that one.

NFL Free Picks: I have no faith in Vick so give the points. 

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