Steelers vs. Ravens Odds & Picks: Back Lamar Jackson To Cover vs. the NFL’s Last Unbeaten
Getty Images. Pictured: Lamar Jackson
Steelers vs. Ravens Odds
After Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal in the closing seconds last week, the Steelers became the last remaining undefeated NFL team of 2020.
The Steelers will look to keep it rolling in Charm City with a win over the 5-1 Ravens — a victory would give the Steelers a comfortable lead in the AFC North with a decent chance to secure the highly-coveted bye in the AFC playoffs. However, a loss would drop them to second place in the division.
Like most Ravens-Steelers matchups, this one should be a war in what I consider the NFL’s best current rivalry.
Since John Harbaugh arrived in Baltimore in 2008, the Ravens own a 14-13 head-to-head advantage, including three postseason meetings. A remarkable 19 of those 27 games have been decided by one possession with four needing overtime. Even more amazing, 16 have been decided by four or fewer points with 14 of those 16 by a field goal or less.
Bottom line: This series has been tight over the past decade and change. And oddsmakers expect another close contest with the Ravens sitting as 4-point home favorites.
The Steelers lost both meetings against the Ravens last season, but that was without Ben Roethlisberger.
Now Big Ben is back under center and looks a lot different. He isn’t the gunslinger we’ve seen in the past. Even with countless weapons on the outside, Roethlisberger has almost become a game manager — he’s not throwing the ball downfield as frequently or with as much success. His two downfield throws of 20 or more yards last week were both intercepted by a subpar Titans secondary.
For the season, Roethlisberger has just a 34.6% Adjusted Completion Percentage on deep passes. That ranks 27th in the NFL — just ahead of Drew Lock and Joe Flacco.
There are other issues with this Pittsburgh offense, starting up front with the offensive line, which just isn’t as elite as we consistently saw a few seasons ago. The Steelers rank 17th in Adjusted Line Yards, per Football Outsiders. The signs of a dip in production started last season, but the atrocious quarterback play took all of the blame.
This season, Pittsburgh doesn’t have a single starting offensive lineman ranked inside the top 25 of their respective position, per Pro Football Focus.
While the offense has been worse than many think due to Pittsburgh’s unblemished record, the defense has shined. From the perspective of Football Outsiders’ DVOA, the Steelers sit at No. 2 overall on the defensive side of the ball, ranking in the top 10 against both the pass and run.
It’s also no surprise that Pittsburgh leads the league in total sacks and Adjusted Sack Rate. It helps to have guys like Stephon Tuitt, Cameron Hayward and the unheralded Tyson Alualu on the defensive line with T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree coming off the edge. The Steelers can generate pressure without blitzing as well as any team in the NFL. Watt in particular is playing at an All-Pro level to start the year.
And ever since Minkah Fitzpatrick arrived in the Steel City, the secondary has elevated its play across the board. Of course, it helps your coverage when you can generate pressure at such a high rate.
From a trend perspective, this is generally a good spot to back Mike Tomlin, who has been a covering machine on the road against teams with winning records.
Of 124 coaches in our Bet Labs database, Tomlin has been the most profitable in this spot as an underdog, compiling an impressive 16-5 record against the spread (76.2%), covering by an average margin of nearly six points per game. Tomlin has even won 14 of those 21 games as an underdog outright, including last week against the Titans.
This trend makes sense as Tomlin’s strength, in my opinion, is his motivational skills — he plays the “us against the world” card as well as any coach and consistently gets his team fired up for these spots. (By contrast, his teams have been known to come out very flat on the road against bad teams.)
Let’s take a trip down memory lane to last season: With the Ravens coming off a bye, they were hosting the undefeated Patriots. The hype and market was at an all-time high on the Patriots after they beat up on a soft schedule. Sound familiar? Well, the Ravens won that game going away.
The Ravens winning their first game off a bye has been the norm under Harbaugh, who is the second-most profitable coach to back after a bye week in our Bet Labs database. He’s 9-3 against the spread in this situation, covering by a healthy margin — if not for a blown call that cost the Ravens a win against the Jaguars that the NFL had to issue a formal apology for, he could be 11-1 straight up.
The Ravens actually profile very similarly to the Steelers: Both have dominated on defense while struggling on offense, especially in the passing game.
Lamar Jackson hasn’t been effective through the air, missing some wide-open deep shots, but his receivers have also had some key drops. The aerial attack just isn’t clicking like we saw last season.
The interior of the offensive line has also struggled to adequately fill the void left by future Hall-of-Famer Marshal Yanda. The ground game is still effective, as the Ravens lead the NFL with 5.4 yards per carry.
On defense, the Ravens rank one spot behind the Steelers at No. 3 from a DVOA perspective. It’s a unit that will relentlessly blitz as much as any team in the NFL. Baltimore also boasts arguably the most talented group of corners in the league. That’s critical against the talented Pittsburgh receivers, especially now with the emergence of Chase Claypool.
You can expect Marlon Humphrey, who I have graded as a top-three corner, to match up with JuJu Smith-Schuster in the slot quite often. The Ravens should have no issues playing press and gambling for turnovers considering how ineffective Big Ben has been when throwing downfield.
Both teams rank No. 1 (Steelers at 4.3) and No. 2 (Ravens at 3.6) in the league in sacks per game. It’s not surprising to see the Steelers at the top of this leaderboard, but it was a major question surrounding the Ravens defense coming into the season — it’s why they drafted two rookie linebackers and signed Calais Campbell, who had three sacks in his last game against the Eagles.
Baltimore then traded for Yannick Ngakoue during the bye week. He should help generate even more edge pressure for a Wink Martindale defense that loves to blitz as well as any team in the NFL.
The Ravens now boast one of the best corner duos in the NFL with Marcus Peters and Humphrey in addition to Campbell and Ngakoue up front. This unit is really starting to resemble the Jaguars’ dominant defense that came up a few points shy of a Super Bowl appearance in 2017.
Yes, Pittsburgh is undefeated on the season, but its first four wins all came by 10 or fewer points against four sub-.500 teams with a combined 6-20-1 record. The Steelers bludgeoned the Browns in a very favorable matchup in Week 6 then squeaked out a win against the Titans in Week 7. But ultimately, I’m just not that impressed by the resume as others seem to be, and I think the market has too much love for the Steelers.
I have the Steelers power rated as the third-best team in the AFC — but still have them approximately four points worse on a neutral field against both the Chiefs and Ravens. Throw in a half-point for the Ravens coming off a bye and an additional point for home-field advantage, and you get to my line of just below Ravens -6 here.
As has usually been the case, the bye should serve the Ravens well. I expect the offense to be much sharper and Jackson to be fully healed from a few lingering injury issues.
This could be a game in which the Steelers really miss linebacker Devin Bush, who is out for the season. Not only do I think the Ravens will call plenty of quarterback draws, but Jackson should have some chunk runs up the middle after being pressured.
Jackson can fully exploit this now-slow Steelers interior linebacker group with his legs and through the air over the middle. That and Baltimore’s overall superior rushing attack should ultimately prove the difference between a pair of rivals that have eerily similar profiles.
The early-down success rates for Pittsburgh’s offense are huge red flags. That’s something you can get away with against the Titans, who now have the worst third-down defense through six games in the history of the NFL. But that’s going to catch up to the Steelers very soon, and it could very well get ugly on Sunday against one of the league’s best defenses that ranks sixth on third down conversions.
Oh, and don’t forget about Baltimore’s special teams edge, which it will have almost every week.
I personally jumped at the opportunity to play Baltimore -3 (-125) earlier in the week, since I show plenty of value at that number and also understand how close these matchups tend to be. That puts even more importance on laying only a field goal — even if I had to pay 15 cents to do so — thought I do still like Baltimore at -4.
I also fancy the under — points should come at a premium, which makes every point even that much more valuable. I would play it down to 45.
PICKS: Ravens -4; Under 46.5