The Steelers have everything to play for in this spot, as a win and a Titans loss will get them into the playoffs, while the Ravens have nothing to play for and have already made it known they plan to rest key starters. When starters are resting, there is always some level of attention we need to give to those spots to decide if the cheaper prices on the backups-turned-starters make them worthwhile plays. This setup will aim to make things easy on us with the Ravens taking on the top five defense of the Steelers.
The Matchup ::
- Mark Ingram and Lamar Jackson will not be playing in this game for the Ravens (alongside a few other starters on the Ravens’ offense, presumably); Robert Griffin III, Gus Edwards, and company will take on a Steelers defense that ranks third in defensive DVOA (fifth against the pass, third against the run), and that needs a win and a Titans loss in order to sneak into the playoffs (where they would likely have the pleasure of getting decked in the first round at Arrowhead)
- The Steelers have allowed the fourth fewest yards per game and the fourth fewest points per game
- Baltimore has allowed the fifth fewest yards and the third fewest points
- With only 53 men on an NFL roster (including specialists), it’s impossible for an NFL team to come close to resting all of its players — especially given that most teams still use almost all 45 active players (besides the backup quarterback) on game-day, with rotations and various packages and responsibilities; the Ravens’ defense should still be “related to” their typical elite selves
- Devlin Hodges will start this week after getting benched last week and being forced to return to the field once Mason Rudolph was injured
- Hodges’ best game came against Cleveland, when he threw for 212 yards, one touchdown, and one interception
- Only the Jets and Redskins have fewer yards per game than the Steelers
- Only six teams have fewer points per game than the Steelers
- The Steelers rank 30th in drive success rate on offense, while their offensive line ranks 28th in adjusted line yards
- Only three teams are averaging fewer yards per play than Pittsburgh this year
The Game ::
One of the more interesting moves made in the NFL last year was the Ravens’ decision to carry three quarterbacks on their roster — with Robert Griffin III joining Lamar Jackson as the backups for Joe Flacco. Now that we have seen just how fully the Ravens have built their offense around the unique strengths of Lamar Jackson, however, that move makes quite a bit more sense, as RGIII should be able to step in and run a lot of the same concepts and elements that this team has built for their star sophomore QB. Obviously, there is some guesswork involved here, but it’s likely we see “more of the same” — with the Ravens leaning as run-heavy as any team in the league, and with this run scheme built around RGIII and Gus Edwards in place of Lamar and Ingram. As we saw last year during the stretch run, the Ravens don’t go out of their way to involve Gus Gus in the pass game (or, rather: the Ravens go out of their way to not involve Gus Gus in the pass game), which should make him a yardage-and-touchdown complement to Justice Hill. Unfortunately, all of these pieces will be taking on a Steelers defense that ranks top five in DVOA against both the run and the pass, and that has allowed the fewest notable stat lines in the NFL this year, with a grand total of one moderately usable DFS score produced against them this season (a 5-101-1 line by Tyler Boyd that included a downfield jump ball to boost his yardage total). Lamar had his worst game of the season in this matchup, producing only 161 passing yards and a touchdown (with three interceptions) while adding 70 yards and no scores on the ground (“good for” a fantasy score of 14.4). A bet on this offense in this spot is a bet on the Ravens’ second-level options breaking through in a tough spot.
The Over/Under in this game currently sits at only 37.5, with the Steelers’ depressingly inept offense stuck taking on what should still be a fairly strong (and aggressive) Baltimore defense that would love to prevent their division rival from making the playoffs. On a 15-game slate, you can do a whole lot better than this spot on paper, making a bet on this offense a bet on slate-breaking production emerging from an unlikely spot. As always in this sort of setup: the focus should tilt toward players who can “do it all on one play” — though unfortunately (as noted throughout the last couple months), this doesn’t really narrow things down much further for us, as JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Diontae Johnson all have an ability to take a short pass to the house (while the Steelers are likely to lean on their ineffective run game for as long s they can). Pittsburgh produced strong fantasy scores for Diontae against both Arizona and the Jets (obviously softer pass game matchups than they have in this spot), while his recent target counts of 8 // 7 // 9 point to him as the likeliest player to hit if you’re wanting to chase in this spot.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Both defenses are obviously viable in this spot, though outside of that, I expect to be leaving this game alone myself, with so many other games available in so many other spots with higher scoring expectations, better offenses, and worse defenses. If you’re wanting to build around this game, however, building for the Steelers to break through against a not-fully-stocked Ravens defense is your likeliest path to success, with a second-tier bet available on the Ravens racking up some production in response.