Oddsmakers Liking Ravens' Chances Much More
"Doubt [Byron] Leftwich at your own risk."
That was the warning CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman gave to those betting that newly declared starting quarterback Byron Leftwich will fail against the Ravens Sunday night.
Well, oddsmakers are taking that risk.
Pittsburgh was favored by 3 1/2 points when the betting lines opened this week. But after learning two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger won't be under center, the Ravens are suddenly favored by a field goal.
The change may not seem like much, but The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck explains the significance.
"The people who make their living figuring out what the score might be believe that Pittsburgh would be about a touchdown better if Roethlisberger were healthy," the columnist wrote.
"That's a big, big difference in this new era of NFL parity — and it's something the Ravens need to exploit if they are to position themselves for another deep playoff run."
Oddsmakers care deeply about their money, so it's tough to doubt their instincts. But unless you are putting a few bucks down on the game, the spread means nothing.
It certainly means nothing to the Ravens, who believe Leftwich is capable of stepping in to effectively run an already potent offense. He may not have been impressive during his years with the Jaguars, but Freeman believes the story could be different in Pittsburgh.
"I covered Leftwich extensively in Jacksonville and he is probably the toughest player I've ever covered," Freeman wrote. "I always believed Leftwich got a raw deal in Jacksonville. He had no weapons around him, a bad offensive line and a coach in Jack Del Rio who didn't get offense."
Unlike Jacksonville, the Steelers do get offense and they will give Leftwich plenty of weapons, including Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown (if healthy), Heath Miller and a trio of talented backs (Mendenhall has a good chance to return). The Ravens' No. 27-ranked defense will have its hands full.
Plus, Pittsburgh boasts the No. 1 defense that won't allow another 55-point game from quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens.
Roethlisberger has missed four games against the Ravens during his career, and while Baltimore came out on the winning end each time, it was never by much.
"Every one of [those games] was a typical, hard-fought rivalry showdown that was decided by no more than six points and could have gone either way right up to the end," Schmuck wrote. "There's really no reason to think that Sunday night will be any different."
Heinz Field: Home Sweet Home For Ravens
Considering the Ravens' road woes this season, it's ironic to hear about how much they love playing in Heinz Field. Even more ironic is the success Flacco has had in the Pittsburgh stadium.
According to ESPN's Jamison Hensley, only four quarterbacks have won more than once at Heinz Field in its 12-year history: Carson Palmer, Steve McNair , Tom Brady and Flacco.
Even more impressive is the success Flacco has had in recent history. Of the last 22 home games, Pittsburgh has only lost four and Flacco has delivered half of those defeats.
"I think this is one of those places, as a team and an offensive unit, we enjoy going in there and playing," the five-year veteran said.
And Flacco's not the only Raven who loves seeing those terrible towels waving. Nothing is much sweeter than disappointing Pittsburgh fans, says Terrell Suggs and Ray Rice.
"If there's one place as a football player you would want to play, it's definitely being the bad guy at Heinz Field … there and M&T [Bank Stadium]," Sizzle said. "I love playing at home, but when I'm talking about opposing stadiums, there's none better to go into than Heinz Field."
Rice compared the feelings of beating the Steelers at home versus the road.
"Tremendous organization, much respect, but to win there definitely felt a little sweeter than we did winning here," he said.
Dixon Believes Pittsburgh Wanted Him Back, Happy He's In Baltimore
Did the Ravens re-sign Dennis Dixon to their practice squad to block the Steelers from grabbing their former quarterback days before the rivalry showdown?
That's been the question of the last few days, but nobody knows whether Pittsburgh even wanted Dixon.
According to the five-year quarterback, he said both Ravens and Steelers brass were in contact with his agent.
"I believe so," Dixon told The Sun about being considered by the Steelers. "My agent has gone back and forth with them. It's a different situation, but it is what it is. I'm happy to be here.
"I'm happy to be back, obviously just being with this good group of guys. Things happen the way they happen."
In the video below, Dixon said he would be happy to share whatever insight he can about Pittsburgh's offense. But Head Coach John Harbaugh downplayed how impactful that would be considering the Steelers offense has a very different look under new Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley.
"Not really a lot," Harbaugh said. "Obviously, it's a different offense now. We've studied those guys over the years. Dennis is focusing on being the best quarterback he can be and learning our system."
Joyner: 5 Reasons Ravens Are Pretenders
At 7-2, the Ravens have the third best record in the league and they just delivered a 55-20* *drubbing to the Oakland Raiders.
But ESPN's KC Joyner is looking past that and says the Ravens are Super Bowl pretenders, not contenders. He said that an easy schedule and a little luck has been a big part of Baltimore's success thus far this season. Both of those factors will disappear in the postseason and will send the Ravens home early.
"The truth of the matter is that many factors indicate this year's Ravens squad is not playing at anywhere near a Super Bowl-caliber level," Joyner wrote.
Here are Joyner's five reasons that the Ravens are pretenders:
- QB Joe Flacco is taking too many chances
- Baltimore's run blocking is regressing
- RB Ray Rice is not his usual self
- Multiple defensive woes
- A highly favorable schedule
Anyone want to share their five reasons why the Ravens are true contenders?
- How long is "awhile?" Could he miss the second Ravens-Steelers matchup? … @edbouchette [Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette]: #Roethlisberger's rib is partially dislocated and of more concern than the shoulder. Don't look for him to play in awhile. #Steelers [Twitter]
- Is the Ravens defense actually playing better without ? Matt Vensel's take: "The way that inside linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Jameel McClain have played the past three games, you could probably make an argument that the Ravens are playing better without Lewis (and, to be fair, with Terrell Suggs back on the field). That's a heated argument for another day." [The Baltimore Sun]
- Jeff Zrebiec believes Ed Reed will have a much better game against the Steelers, bouncing back from a rough performance against Oakland. "I'd be very surprised if you don't see a much better Ed Reed Sunday," he wrote. "One, Reed is a prideful guy who tends to respond when criticism about his play is at its loudest. Two, his best two games this season have come in the season-opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on "Monday Night Football" and two weeks later against the New England Patriots in a primetime game on Sunday." [The Baltimore Sun]
- @mattvensel: WR Antonio Brown (ankle) said he doesn't expect to practice today or tomorrow. He will be evaluated on Friday. #Ravens #Steelers
- @ravens: Terrell Suggs talks with the media in his #chuckstrong T-shirt [Twitter]
- Conspiracy theorists are out and about … @mattvensel: Sports radio callers in Pittsburgh think Big Ben is faking or exaggerating his injury, maybe because his pregnant wife is due soon. [Twitter]
- @torreysmithwr: Go Vote for your favorite players for the Pro Bowl...especially Jacoby Jones! [Twitter]
- Great feature on receiver Torrey Smith – with a powerful lead quote from Harbaugh: "We talk a lot about the cauldron of competition, and the fire that refines us, that forges us. We talk about whether you're the type of person that will sharpen the next guy or dull the next guy, because that's how teams are made. To me, no championship team will ever be divided. And to me, Torrey is the perfect example of how the right kind of person is made of the right kind of stuff." [ESPN]* *