Last Week’s Results: 6-7
All Time Results: 32-23, +7.03 Units
Pittsburgh Steelers +3.5 vs. Baltimore Ravens – .8 Units
Pittsburgh Steelers +3 vs. Baltimore Ravens (+110) – .2 Units
The wrong team is favored here. When the season began, I had these teams close to even with a slight nod to Pittsburgh. Factoring in the strength of schedule neither team has justified a major reevaluation in either direction. The Steelers have lost their starting quarterback, but the market is overreacting to the development.
Initially, a 6-point adjustment for losing Ben Rothlisberger made sense for Pittsburgh. After all, he’s a HOFer and we knew no little nothing about his back up, Mason Rudolph at the NFL level. However, Rudolph has played decently, posting league a league average QBR (49.6). Moreover, young quarterbacks have performed better, earlier over the past couple of years. And never so more than this season.
In 2012, Kyle Shanahan essentially repurposed Baylor’s offensive playbook to catalyze the unheard-of rookie success of Robert Griffin III. Each year since the NFL’s playbook has grown to include more and more college-friendly styles: from RPO’s to quick-pass Air-Raid schemes.
Correspondingly, first and second-year quarterbacks have surpassed expectations regularly. Many first-time starting QBs have quickly matched or surpassed the play of their more established predecessors.
Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson is a great example. At the beginning of the year, we thought of Jackson as a 2-3 point downgrade from veteran Joe Flacco. Within 6 quarters of watching Jackson start, I had him as a 2-point upgrade from Flacco. Therein lied five-point mispricing in the market which took more than 4 more weeks to dissipate.
Starters other than Day 1-starters this year in the NFL are 11-8 Straight up & 15-4 against the spread.
Rookies like Daniel Jones and Gardner Mishnew are undefeated against the spread. Second-year player, Kyle Allen also hasn’t lost.
While I’m not convinced that any of the above players will prove better than league average over the next 5 years, I don’t think we should be surprised any more than there are viable NFL QBs that we have never heard of. Consider future GOAT, Pat Mahomes. Not only was he better than his replacement eventually. He was 4+ points better on Day 1.
Mason Rudolph hasn’t been a Mahomes-like revelation. But he has been serviceable and has led the Steelers to 73 points in 2 and a half games.
Last year, Big Ben posted the 4th QBR in the league. Simple back-of-the-napkin math leads me to conclude the Steelers are 6 points better with Big Ben vs. a replacement-level quarterback, but only about 3 points better when Big Ben is replaced by a league-average QB. Subtract another point or so for lower than expectations play from the backfield and secondary, and I still have the Steelers only a few points worse than the Ravens on a neutral field.
Many have upgraded the Ravens significantly this season. I’ve even seen them crack some Top 5 lists. I, however, haven’t changed my opinion about them much at all. Baltimore has lost to two good teams – one close, one blowout – and has beaten the two worst teams in the league. They still have a great coach. They still have a developing quarterback.
If anything surprises me about the Ravens, is that their defense has been so far below expectations. The Ravens are currently 32nd in Yards Play Allowed, giving up more than 7 yards per snap.
Overall, these teams look about even on a statistical basis. The Steelers (-0.2) are 21st in Net Yards Per Play. The Ravens (-0.3) are 22nd. The Steelers, however, have posted these numbers against betters teams. The Steelers opponents are 8-3 against other teams, while the Ravens opponents are 4-7-1 vs. other competition.
I would like this bet even without the air-tight nature of this rivalry. But these trends cement the play for me:
Since Jim Harbaugh became the HC in Baltimore in 2008, 13 of his 25 matchups against the Steelers were decided by 3 points or fewer. In those 25 games, Ravens have beaten the Steelers by more than 3 points only 5 times.
The last time the Ravens were favored by more than a field goal in Pittsburgh was 1987, during a strike-shortened season.
Steelers +700 to win AFC North -.125 Units
The Steelers at 7/1 will be a great addition to the portfolio, as I expect this division to be close all season long. The three teams the Steelers lost to so far – the Patriots, Seahawks & 49ers – may all prove to be playoff teams by the end of the year if not legitimate contenders. Only 1 game back today, the Steelers will get back into this division scooping up wins against the likes of Dolphins and Jets – whom their rivals have already beaten.
The Browns probably have the most impressive statistical profile in the division. Currently, 8th in the NFL in Net Yards Per play, Cleveland is the only team in the AFC North in the upper 2/3’s of the league in this key metric.
While I have a Ravens +180 ticket, I now think the Browns should be favored over the Ravens to win the division. That said, I firmly expect them to lose at least two of their next three games. So instead of getting them at +110 today, I’m hoping I can get them in a couple of weeks +200 or better.
Meanwhile, the Steelers are a great sleeper to have in my back pocket.
Watch out, the Steelers have won 15 of their last 17 games against AFC North opponents.
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