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The underdog in the Pittsburgh-Baltimore series has gone 19-10-3 against the spread since 2003. And 21 of the 32 meetings have been decided by one possession — including 16 by three or fewer points.
So should you back the Steelers as 3.5-point dogs?
Our experts break down this AFC North showdown from every angle.
Odds as of Thursday evening and via PointsBet, where Action Network users get an exclusive 200% deposit match (deposit $50, bet with $150).
Ravens-Steelers injury report
Tight end Mark Andrews (foot) has been listed on the Ravens’ report every week, but he hasn’t come close to missing any games and he practiced in a limited fashion on Thursday. They’ll likely be without CB Jimmy Smith (knee) again, and DL Brandon Williams (knee) is also banged up.
Friday will be a big day for the Steelers because JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe), James Conner (ankle) and Vance McDonald (shoulder) have all missed practice this week. Not ideal for them.
Which team is healthier? Ravens
Note: Info as of Thursday. See our Injury Report for daily practice participation and game statuses up until kickoff.
Ravens run offense vs. Steelers run defense
In Lamar Jackson’s 12 career starts (including playoffs), the Ravens have a 1940s-esque 56.7 percent run rate with an average of 39.9 carries per game. That’s unbelievable. What’s more amazing, though, is that they’ve actually been efficient despite their volume.
In Jackson’s starts, the Ravens have averaged 5.3 yards per carry. In seven of his 12 starts, the team has cleared 200 yards rushing.
It helps that Jackson is such a dynamic dual-threat quarterback. He easily leads the position with 36 carries and 238 yards. And run-game aficionado Greg Roman — the Ravens’ inventive offensive coordinator — maximizes the team’s ground attack.
With great year-over-year offensive line continuity, the Ravens are No. 2 with 5.08 adjusted line yards per attempt and a 10 percent stuffed rate (per Football Outsiders). When they run, they overwhelmingly get positive yardage, and usually lots of it.
Mark Ingram has been especially productive: He’s bound to regress, but right now he has career-best marks with 82 yards per game, six yards per carry and a 60 percent rushing success rate. A hard-nosed, between-the-tackles savant, Ingram is an ideal fit in the offense. With his 6.3 yards per touch, Ingram has been more efficient than every other full-time back except for Saquon Barkley.
The Ravens are easily No. 1 in Football Outsiders’ run-offense DVOA.The Steelers, though, are No. 28 with 4.81 adjusted line yards per attempt allowed. Inside linebackers Mark Barron and Devin Bush have been especially underwhelming, and that’s reflected in their Pro Football Focus grades:
Barron: 56.7 overall, 58.2 run defense
Bush: 50.4 overall, 54.3 run defense
An underachieving veteran and wet-nosed rookie, Barron and Bush are one of the league’s most liability-prone linebacking duos.
As much as the Ravens run, it’s the 49ers who actually lead the league with a 56.7 percent run rate, and in Week 3 they gave the Steelers all they could handle with their three-headed backfield in a 24-20 win.
This week we expect to see the Ravens give the Steelers the “49ers treatment”, with a full ground-based attack centered around Jackson and Ingram, and supported by change-of-pace options Gus Edwards and Justice Hill.
Projected Spread: Ravens -2.5
Projected Total: 43
The Ravens opened their season with two cupcake matchups against Miami and Arizona. Once they faced tougher competition in Kansas City and Cleveland, they came back down to Earth and are 2-2. Now they face a Steelers team that’s still trying to find their identity with Big Roethlisberger out for the season.
The Steelers deployed an extremely conservative offense against the Bengals that involved a wildcat formation with Jaylen Samuels taking snaps. It’s not a sustainable offensive game plan, but a sign that they’re going to tailor this offense to who they have in order to grind out wins.
Mike Tomlin is 30-17 against the spread as an underdog and we need to consider taking the Steelers at a key number like +3.5 due to the adaptability we’re seeing from them.
The under is also showing some value here; this game flow could lend to it as well. The Ravens are one of the NFL’s most run-heavy teams, while the Steelers are shifting to an extreme short-passing, run-heavy game plan. This is much more likely going to be a grind-it-out division game than a shootout, so I like the under at 44.5, which locks in two fairly key total numbers in 43 and 44.
PRO System match
PRO Systems are data-driven betting strategies that turn winning long-term trends into easy-to-follow picks, all handpicked and monitored by our team of analysts. Try Action PRO now and instantly access real-time game matches for every PRO System.
Underdogs have historically performed well in division games because increased familiarity among opponents keeps games competitive, and it’s been profitable to bet small dogs in these matchups to win outright.
Even though teams matching this Pro System have a losing record of 111-116-2, bettors have still been able to turn a profit due to plus-money bets. A $100 gambler would have returned a profit of $4,568 following this strategy since 2003.
The Steelers +158 are a match for this system.
The underdog has covered 66 percent of the time in this rivalry with half the games decided by a field goal or less, but that’s for CBS to have fun with during its telecast; there are other reasons to back the Steelers here.
For one, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner is doing a masterful job putting his young quarterback, Mason Rudolph, in a position to succeed. Rudolph is completing 67.4 percent of his passes with a 6-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, executing well within the scope of the newly imagined offense. What Rudolph lacks in experience he makes up for in accuracy over (late-career) Big Ben: Rudolph is 11th in Pro Football Focus’ adjusted completion percentage (78.3 percent), while Big Ben ranked 29th last season (73.9 percent) and 36th this season (66.7 percent).
On the other side, we have to put Jackson’s career thus far into perspective. While he’s a top-flight fantasy QB, the reality is he faced defenses ranked 25th or worse in DVOA in five of his seven starts last season before struggling against the Chargers’ eighth-ranked unit in the wild-card round.
In Weeks 1-2 of this season, Jackson shredded Miami’s 32nd-ranked and Arizona’s 25th-ranked units for 41-of-57 passing (71.9 percent) for 298 yards per game with a 7-to-0 TD-to-INT ratio and 63 yards per game on the ground. Against the more formidable Chiefs (18th) and Browns (eighth) in Weeks 3 and 4, Jackson struggled, completing just 46-of-77 passes (59.7 percent) for 257 yards with a 3-to-2 TD-to-INT ratio and 56 yards per game rushing.
Yes, the Steelers started the year 0-3, but that came against the Patriots, Seahawks and 49ers, who are a combined 10-1. Tomlin has a strong record ATS as an underdog, so don’t be surprised if the Steelers find a way to keep it within a field goal or pull off the outright win once again.
We’d bet this as long as it’s above 3, or at 3 if you can get +100 or better.
The pick: Steelers +3.5
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