The big news this week is the injury to Ben Roethlisberger. It couldn't have come at a worse time as they are getting ready to host the Baltimore Ravens. Neither team have been outstanding this year, but with Big Ben out the power has certainly shifted to their division rivals. Let's go ahead and make the obvious pick here and ride the Ravens to victory.
This game has had the most line movement over the past two weeks of any on the board and not just because of Big Ben's status. The look ahead line had the Steelers -5.5 point favorites, but after Baltimore shredded Oakland it went down to -3.25. Now that Pittsburgh is going to be without their star quarterback, the line re-opened at -1 and there are clear signs that it's on the move. I'd be surprised if this closed lower than -3, so if you like them now is the time to jump in. I like them at anything under -3 (odds from SBRforum).
It's not very often that I have a snap reaction to an injury, but when it was reported that Big Ben is closer to "doubtful" than "questionable", I immediately checked to see if this game was on the board. Surprisingly, it was and I'm shocked that the game isn't a full -3 in favor of the Ravens.
Right now we've seen some movement towards -2.5, but at the time of this write-up you can still get the Ravens below the critical number of "3".
The reason why Big Ben's injury is so important is because of the dropoff to Bryan Leftwich. Roethlisberger was not only near the top of the QB efficiency rankings before his injury, but he was almost single-handedly responsible for their elite level passing game this season. He was also the primary reason why the Steelers rank near the top of the 3rd down efficiency ratings. When you take away those advantages, the Steelers easily become the underdogs in this rivalry.
Don't get me wrong. Leftwich is a veteran and he's familiar with this system so I don't think this will be a blowout, but let's get real here. If the Steelers want to win this game with their offense, they'll need to rely heavily on a run game. Antonio Brown and Rashard Mendenall are also nursing injuries, so Leftwich isn't exactly walking into an ideal situation.
A closer look at Baltimore's defense isn't going to inspire a ton of confidence because they rank average-to-below-average in most critical categories. The injuries have taken their toll on this side of the ball, but they'll get a big boost from Haloti Ngata after he was sat out vs the Raiders. The best news for the Ravens is that they rank near the very top in red zone defense. It's quite possible that they are developing a bend-but-don't-break defense, so that's something to keep an eye on going forward.
Run Ray Run
My only prop bet for the Monday Night Football game in Week 10 was Jamaal Charles over 60.5 rushing yards. It's no secret that the Steelers defense isn't what it used to be and without Troy Polamalu, I really like Ray Rice's opportunity in this game. The Ravens have learned the hard way that Joe Flacco isn't the dynamo passer that they hoped he would be coming into the season, so Ray Rice is going to continue to be the centerpiece of their attack.
The big mismatch in this game will come in the red zone. The Ravens are not only good inside the 20 on defense, but they are among the league leaders on offense too. When they needed a touchdown last week against the Browns, they capitalized on their chance and put the game away. Despite their issues elsewhere in the lineup, good teams come up big in those make-or-break moments. Conversely, the Steelers defense have been poor keeping opponents out of the end zone.
Finally, the Steelers can't rely on any advantages in the peripheral categories either. They are average on special teams and turnover differential this season. The Ravens rank near the top in both of those areas.
This game was shaping up to be another hard fought affair, but with the long list of walking wounded on Pittsburgh the luster has been taken out of it a bit. I still expect Pittsburgh to be competitive, but when push comes to shove I don't see how they'll be able to come away with a win here. The only areas that they excelled in were thanks to Roethlisberger. Now that he's out, the Ravens have a great opportunity to deliver a knock out punch.
NFL Pick: BAL -1.