Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens: Revenge on the mind of rolling Steelers
Big Ben et al were shown up in week four by their divisional rivals in front of their own fans, but they've got their act together with three wins on the bounce and could be a value bet this week getting points on the road, writes Mark Kirwan...
"Ben Roethlisberger's annual play-through-pain injury drama has arrived right on cue in the form of a broken finger on his non-throwing hand, and the Steelers quarterback is manning up in typical humble-brag style. Brave, brave Ben."
Baltimore Ravens @ Carolina Panthers
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Same old Steelers
Every year we seem to go through the same routine with Pittsburgh. They tiptoe along the line of calamitous meltdown on one side and possible Super Bowl champs on the other.
It's a frustrating dance to watch. They look so close to waltzing through the NFL's premier defences one week, their roster loaded with the top running back and wide receiver in the league through the last five years, and then can't put one foot in front of the other the next.
Ben Roethlisberger's annual play-through-pain injury drama has arrived right on cue in the form of a broken finger on his non-throwing hand, and the Steelers quarterback is manning up in typical humble-brag style. Brave, brave Ben.
They've been without Le'Veon Bell this campaign but have barely missed a beat in the running game thanks to James Conner. He picked up a pair of touchdowns and 212 total yards against the Browns last week. Pittsburgh will cope with Bell's departure in free agency in the offseason with ease.
But there have been down days too. The week one tie versus Cleveland they should've lost, they almost threw away their primetime game against FitzMagic and the Bucs in week three, before suffering a double-digit dunking by this week's opponents on their own turf the follwoing Sunday.
These ups-and-downs are typical of Pittsburgh under Mike Tomlin and always make them a tough proposition if you doubt their motivation, but this is a divisional game deep into the season. There's plenty on the line now - this could make the difference between going to the playoffs or not - and Pittsburgh should be up for it.
Ravens flying home
The Ravens took a beating last week in Carolina as a road favourite after a painful one-point loss to the Saints the week before. It was a bad spot for them with Carolina seemingly a different team in their own stadium, and though they started with a touchdown on the opening drive, their defence, by consensus and stats the stand out unit in the league this season, did not show up in the way some of us would've expected.
Part of that is down to injuries. At this stage of the season, everyone's got aches and pains, but the hits the Ravens secondary has taken over the last few weeks did not help last week on won't help this.
Marlon Humphrey may be back this week, but Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr are two new additions to injury report. You'd prefer not to see CJ Mosley and Tim Williams from their linebacking group on there either, and the knocks along the offensive line won't help Joe Flacco much, whose early season resurgence may have been a flicker rather than a flaming return under the pressure of rookie Lamar Jackson.
Alex Collins is there too. They traded for Ty Montgomery from the Packers before the deadline this week in a throw-of-the-dice to get some pop into their running game, but the converted receiver doesn't exactly scream difference maker.
The accumulation of issues will have coach John Harbaugh's men gasping for their bye in week ten.
The Steelers comfortably dispatched the Browns, Hue Jackson and Todd Haley with last week's beatdown coming off their bye. The week four loss to Baltimore at Heinz Field needs evening up too for in-division tie-breakers as much as pride.
They look much better now than they did in the opening weeks. That they're handling the Bell hurdle really helps. Even though the Ravens need the win here at 4-4 - and may get it - +3 on the Steelers looks generous given how tightly contested this game should be. I'd take them with the points at [1.82] or better.
The points total is a harder call. It's getting colder, there's a lot more at stake as the weeks roll by, and the Steelers tend to do just enough to get by in games, while the Ravens offence has lost a lot of its early season pop. I'd prefer the under with the line at 47.5 priced [1.92].
If you want to take an interest in touchdown scorer markets, rookie QB Lamar Jackson for the Ravens holds some appeal. Their offensive scheme has worked in designed plays for him regularly this season, much to the annoyance of starter Joe Flacco. With his play tailing off, there's no reason to expect that trend to stop, especially as their season looks in peril - head coach could be out on his ear in January if the Ravens miss the playoffs again.
Jackson threw his first TD last week in garbage time, and ran for one a week earlier against the Saints. I wouldn't be surprised to see him feature at the goalline here. Both his any time price at 6/1 and Last Touchdown Scorer price of 35/1 on the Sportsbook appeal if you're looking for a bigger priced bet.
1pt on the Pittsburgh Steelers +3 on the Handicap market @ [1.82] on the Exchange
0.5pt on Under 47.5 on the Total Points market @ [1.96] on the Exchange
0.25pt on Lamar Jackson on the Any Time Touchdown Scorer market @ 6/1 on the Sportsbook
0.1pt on Lamar Jackson on the Last Touchdown Scorer market @ 35/1 on the Sportsbook