NFL 2018 Season - Week 16
 

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Shaved Cheese
by Dennis Ranahan

In one of the most spirited rivalries in the National Football League the Baltimore Ravens host the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday. These two AFC North Division opponents don’t like each other.

Since the Ravens captured the Super Bowl to complete the 2012 season, the Steelers and fellow AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals, have won this division. The Bengals won the division in 2013 and 2015 while the Steelers have captured the title the other three seasons. The Cleveland Browns, who have not been a serious threat, round out the four team division.

This year, the Steelers opened with a hardfought tie against the lowly Browns and then lost to the high flying Kansas City Chiefs at home before edging the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In fourth week action, the Steelers hosted the Ravens.

From purely a motivational perspective on division standings, the first meeting between these two teams favored the home standing Steelers. But, Baltimore upended Pittsburgh at Heinz Field and moved two games ahead of them in the win column with the teams ending the week with records of 1-2-1 for the Steelers and 3-1 for the Ravens.

Since that loss, the Steelers have rebounded with three straight wins while the Ravens have dropped three of four contests. The Steelers also had their bye week during that span of games, and come into Baltimore this Sunday with a division leading 4-2-1 mark.

Last week, in Pittsburgh’s win over Cleveland, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger broke a finger on his left, non-throwing, hand. The injury will not keep the veteran Steelers quarterback out of action today, but playing with a broken finger can’t be a good thing. Still, that factor is perhaps not as bad for Pittsburgh as the motivation the Steelers face in this contest.

Baltimore has what many consider the top defense in the league. Even while playing one more game than Pittsburgh this season, the Ravens have allowed 35 fewer points. The only team in the AFC to allow fewer points than Baltimore this season is the Tennessee Titans, and they also have played one less game than Baltimore.

Which leaves us with this to consider for Sunday’s showdown in Baltimore. The Ravens are coming off a pair of tough losses to the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers and trail the Steelers in their division race. The Steelers are riding a three game winning streak and rebounded from their early season stumbles while now looking to pad their division lead over Baltimore.

In their first meeting of the year, the Ravens were able to overcome a tough motivational spot and upset the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Now, the Ravens have all the motivation on their side and they are looking to end a losing streak in front of their home fans against the team they most like to beat.

The opening line on this game had Baltimore favored by three points, and given how competitive these two squads have been in recent years, three points on the line for bettors was like cheese to a mouse. Nearly 70% of the bets made on this game are backing the road Steelers, which has prompted the books to move the spread down to Baltimore favored by less than a field goal.

What we can have this week at M & T Bank Stadium is the likely winner with a shaved point spread.

Qoxhi Picks: Baltimore Ravens (-2½) over Pittsburgh Steelers