You may have thought that today you could have gotten a game day story on the AFC North Division matchup between the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers and defending division champion Baltimore Ravens. But, that assumption would have only been up-to-date if two of the three moves the National Football League has been forced to employ with this matchup were known.
Originally scheduled for Thanksgiving, the third game of a holiday slate that had this attractive matchup in primetime, that had to be shifted because of an extended outbreak of Covid-19 in the Ravens camp. The game was then moved to Sunday, before being moved to today and now being rescheduled for tomorrow, Wednesday.
The shifts have all been prompted by the virus outbreak in Baltimore, and the ongoing moves have shifted some key players' availability. Because the game has been moved from today to tomorrow, the Ravens will have the services of their top two runningbacks, Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins. Baltimore will still be without starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, who has tested positive for the Coronavirus.
When football was the main concern, then this was going to be a battle between two quality AFC squads. One team, the Steelers, looking to extend their unbeaten mark to 12 games and the Ravens, who have lost two straight contests and their first meeting of the season against Pittsburgh, a chance to rekindle their postseason hopes.
If that was what we were dealing with, and Jackson was behind center for the Ravens, then there would have been a dramatic motivational advantage for the visiting Ravens to pin the Steelers with their first loss of the season on their home field. But, alas, we don’t get the Ravens anywhere near full strength, and the possibility that the Steelers win at Heinz Field is greatly enhanced.
The obvious new Pittsburgh advantage based on the virus upsetting the Ravens season, can be seen in the point spread for this game. Before the rescheduling, the Steelers were posted as a 3-point favorite on Thanksgiving. After the virus outbreak, the line was moved up to the Steelers by ten points. Even that bloated point spread has ticked up another half point as of today.
So, what do we have here?
A game that would have been predicted to go one way, is more likely a contest that is so dramatically affected by the loss of personnel on the Ravens side that we may have a New Orleans/Denver situation here. When those two teams played on Sunday, the Broncos were forced to go without a player on their roster listed as a quarterback. A motivational advantage for Denver, who were at home and meeting a Saints team riding a seven game winning streak and playing their second contest without starting quarterback Drew Brees, was erased by the obvious talent gap caused by the virus.
In that game, the line jumped ten points or more, with the once favored by six points Saints moved to a 17 point favorite. The line didn’t come into play, as the undermanned Broncos were unable to defend their home stadium in a 31-3 loss.
So, with that as a sample, do we run right out and lay double-digits tomorrow night with the Steelers and expect an easy win at home against a Baltimore team ravaged by Covid-19 and without their quarterback?
Based on the most recent schedule change, I’ve got an extra 24 hours to make that call. If I was a betting man, and I may be, I’d bet this is going to be a game without a wager recommendation.