BALTIMORE RAVENS @ PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Heinz Field High: 64°F | Low: 50°F, mostly cloudy
Thursday 8:25Pm (ET) | Get Tickets
Spread: Ravens -3.0 | O/U 44.5
The winless Baltimore Ravens will look to kickstart their 2015 campaign on Thursday Night, as they travel to divisional rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite their 2-1 record, all is not rosy with the hosts, as they look to recover from the loss of their talismanic quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and keep their season afloat until he returns in about four to six weeks.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has a 4-2 record on a Thursday in his career, and a 27-15 record against the AFC North. In regular season play, he is 7-7 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, with those 14 games seeing him post an average of 221 passing yards and a total of only 17 touchdowns, coupled with six interceptions. Quarterbacks have enjoyed the sight of the Steelers secondary turning up this season, with only five teams allowing more fantasy points to signal callers than Pittsburgh (one of them is actually the Ravens), but they could be in for a slightly easier day than normal, given the current performance of the Ravens passing attack.
Through three games, veteran Steve Smith has 25 receptions for 349 yards, with Marlon Brown (6-66) and Kamar Aiken (6-88) a long way behind him. In his second year in Baltimore, Smith is averaging 74.4 receiving yards per game, compared to his 67 in all his years as a Panther. He has a 1-4 career record in games against the Steelers, and is yet to score a touchdown. The Steelers are middle of the pack in terms of points given up to fantasy wide receivers, but Smith would have to have his third monster game in a row, after racking up 23 catches for 336 yards in his last two outings. Second year tight end Crockett Gilmore enjoyed a five catch, two touchdown game against Oakland in week two, but he was kept in check by both the Bengals defense and a calf injury last Sunday.
He would hope to be fit to face a Steelers defense that is allowing the 3rd most fantasy points to tight ends so far this season, including 4 touchdowns (three of them on opening night, of course). The Ravens ground game, a huge success in 2014 under previous offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and led by Justin Forsett, has been a huge disappointment so far this season. Forsett averages 9.87 yards per rushing attempt in his career in games played on a Thursday, and holds a career mark of 5.2 YPC against the Steelers, but so far in 2015 he has just 124 yards on 39 carries (3.2 ypc). Forsett owners shouldn’t be too confident of a return to fortune this week however, with the Steelers defense allowing the second fewest fantasy points to running backs. As per Evan Silva of Rotoworld, Pittsburgh are allowing a mere 2.78 YPC on 60 running back carries in 2015. They may not be the Steel Curtain, but its not bad.
In the absence of Big Ben, the Steelers will turn to veteran backup Michael Vick. A totally different quarterback to his teammate, Vick has a .500 record on Thursdays, winning two and losing two. He holds a winning record against AFC North opponents, with a 7-4-1 record, and has beaten Baltimore in two of the three matches he has played against them. He has two touchdown passes to three interceptions in these matches, however.
Known for his scrambling and rushing ability (though more so in his younger days, one suspects), Vick’s 3.61 yards per rushing attempt against the Ravens is the second lowest average against an opponent in his career, with only the 3.57 mark against the Jets lower. As mentioned earlier, the Ravens are in the top five in terms of fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. Antonio Brown, certainly in the conversation with regards to being the best wide receiver in football, will be affected by the loss of Roethlisberger. He has 16 100+ receiving games in his last 35 regular season outings, and has at least five catches and 50 receiving yards in all 35 of those matches (an NFL record). He hasn’t always enjoyed the greatest success against the Ravens though, with the 556 yards he has against the lowest tally of any AFC North opponent despite the most targets (78). He has only scored one touchdown against them.
The Ravens have been welcome opponents for wide receivers in 2015 however, with the six touchdowns allowed by them to wideouts contributing to them being the second most generous in terms of points allowed to that position. With Martavis Bryant still suspended, Darrius Heyward-Bey horribly inconsistent and Markus Wheaton…just horrible, Brown could see an awful lot of targets. Baltimore have not been quite so generous to running backs, allowed the 28th most fantasy points to tailbacks. Le’Veon Bell will be playing just his second game of the season, after 132 yards on 26 total touches against St Louis last sunday. Like Brown, however, Bell has not been at his most effective when the Ravens are the opponents. His 56 rushing attempts are his second most against an AFC North foe, but his 246 yards (one score) are the fewest he has garnered against a common opponent. Stalwart tight end Heath Miller has 12 catches on the season so far, but is unlikely to get much change out of a Ravens defense that has allowed the fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Granted, teams haven’t HAD to use the tight end as the secondary, “led” by Jimmy Smith, has been unable to cope with opposition wide receivers, but don’t bet on Miller to be the guy who takes them to the cleaners.
Fantasy Football: In My Opinion
Despite the appealing nature of the match up, I can not recommend starting either quarterback from this game. Vick has offered very little in his few starts since 2012, and Joe Flacco is simply too inconsistent to offer any long term fantasy appeal. For the Steelers, Bell and Brown are both practically matchup proof. Even if Bell is unable to dominate on the ground, the 4.5 receptions he averages against the Ravens means he won’t be ignored in the offensive gameplan. For Baltimore, Smith started 2014 strong before fading away, so it is essential for owners to spend as much of his fantasy capital as they can quickly. He is a strong WR3, with WR2 upside. If Gilmore shakes off injury, the matchup alone makes him a touchdown dependent TE2, but if he is unable to play it is unlikely that rookie Maxx Williams will be able to offer anything substantial.
Ravens 17 Steelers 28
Neil’s been playing fantasy football for ten years, including a victory in 2014 in a league arranged by NFL.com Fantasy expert Adam Rank. Huge Philadelphia Eagles fan, and follows the fortunes of the England cricket team, usually with his head in his hands for both. Neil lives with his fiancé Kate and their daughter Zoe. He is an atrocious Words with Friends player.