- The repeatedly delayed game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens was finally completed on Wednesday afternoon.
- The Steelers won outright to remain undefeated but the Ravens covered the number as a +10.5 point underdog.
- Sportsbooks had a financial liability on the Steelers with a fair amount of money bet at the original opening line (-3.5 or -4).
The NFL game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers was *finally* completed this afternoon. Overall, the NFL had an awful week as it relates to management of the COVID-19 pandemic and between this contest and the Denver Broncos ‘no quarterbacks needed’ game against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday the mainstream media has been all over the story.
Here’s how Wednesday’s game came to be played in the middle of the week six days from the originally scheduled date. The always entertaining AFC North matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens was originally scheduled for Thanksgiving night in prime time. Unfortunately, it was not to be–the game had to be postponed due to a severe COVID-19 outbreak among Baltimore’s players and staff. The situation started badly and only got worse with more players–including reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson either testing positive of having to be quarantined due to contact tracing. The game was originally rescheduled to Sunday but with little improvement in the situation it was postponed again to Tuesday.
This is where everything becomes even more interesting. On Monday, it was announced that the game rescheduled for Tuesday had been moved to Wednesday. The NFL sent out one of their typically self aggrandizing press releases indicating that the move was a magnanimous gesture on the part of the league which only has the well being of the players at heart:
“These decisions were made out of an abundance of caution to ensure the health and safety of players, coaches and game day personnel and in consultation with medical experts.”
And now–to channel the late radio icon Paul Harvey–here’s the ‘rest of the story’: It turns out that the NFL might have been forced to move the game to Wednesday when Ravens’ players ‘called their bluff’. There were reports that had the Pittsburgh-Baltimore game not been postponed to Wednesday the Ravens players might have refused to play. According to the omnipresent ‘source with knowledge of the situation’ the concerns about a potential ‘wildcat strike’ by the Baltimore players was not insignificant. You didn’t see this story on any website with broadcasting ties to the NFL but it was widely reported elsewhere including Pro Football Talk and TMZ Sports.
After the game, neither team was really happy. Mike Tomlin wasn’t happy with the play of his team which managed to scrap out the outright win to remain undefeated:
“It was really junior varsity, to be quite honest with you. It was in all three phases. We couldn’t run the ball effectively when we needed to. We dropped too many significant passes, very catchable, makeable passes. We didn’t make significant plays in the special-teams game. Our kickoff coverage unit wasn’t good enough. We turned the ball over. We gave up big plays in critical moments on defense. Can’t have it.”
“[The Ravens] converted a long run on a possession down before the half. Unacceptable. They had a 70-yard touchdown late in the game. Unacceptable. We’re fortunate tonight. It’s good to proceed with the victory. I acknowledge that. But not a lot happened tonight to be proud of or to be excited about other than that.”
Tomlin is a damn good coach and he’s likely just laying the groundwork for a good effort next Monday night at home against the Washington ‘Football Team’. In the other locker room, Ravens’ coach John Harbaugh praised the toughness of his players for answering the bell despite the long injury list and the NFL’s best effort to ‘job them out‘:
“Whatever happened, they didn’t blink. That was our goal. We’re not going to be pushed around by something that we can’t control. That’s the real test. I think that’s the type of adversity that great things are built on.”
Ravens’ quarterback Robert Griffin III–the fill in starter for reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson–didn’t have much to say but what he did say might be enough to get him fined as he questioned the league’s commitment to player safety:
“It’s not about whether or not guys want to play. It’s about whether or not our safety is actually being taken into account. I can’t say much more than that.”
RGIII knows how to play the media game so he let that statement hang there. One of the big storylines heading into the game was the Ravens’ lack of practice time over the past week. The Ravens had no real practices and just two walk-throughs with players masked up and (presumably) socially distanced. RGIII further implicated the league without doing so specifically with this comment:
“I pulled a hamstring today. I’ve never pulled a hamstring in my life. You see guys going down left and right.”
Other players made it clear that there was no beef with the Ravens’ organization starting with guard Bradley Bozeman:
“Everyone in the Ravens’ organization did the best thing for player safety they possibly could and to make sure this game happened. The players wanted it to happen. The coaches wanted it to happen. But we were also concerned with safety, and I think they all did a really good job handling it.”
Linebacker Tyus Bowser echoed these sentiments:
“When you deal with something like this … we had a couple concerns. But I just know, with our president Dick Cass, [general manager] Eric DeCosta and coach [John] Harbaugh, they had our best interest, and they were trying to do everything they could to get us ready for this game.”
Coach Harbaugh–likely trying to take the proverbial bullet for his players–ended with a conciliatory tone toward the league brass:
“I just feel like the league did their best. We did our best. We didn’t bat 1.000. Nobody did. The league didn’t. Nobody did. You can’t bat 1.000 against this thing. But I think our response, in terms of our effort, was a perfect effort.”
RAVENS GUTSY EFFORT BAILS OUT SPORTSBOOKS WITH ATS COVER
Coach Harbaugh wasn’t the only one happy about the strong showing by the Baltimore Ravens with seemingly everything working against them. Nevada’s bookmakers had taken a flood of public money on the Steelers at double digit numbers. Depending on how the ‘house rules’ are written at individual books some got hit with a ‘double whammy’ due to the rescheduling of the game. Some books like Station Casinos require games to be played on the originally scheduled date. When the game gets moved, they refund all bets. Other books have different stipulations with quite a few only requiring that games be played within a week of their originally scheduled date. Since the game originally opened at Pittsburgh -3 or -4 prior to the slew of positive COVID-19 tests in the Baltimore camp and the loss of NFL MVP Lamar Jackson that put sportsbooks in a tough spot as Circa’s Chris Bennett explained to the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
“So every bet we’ve taken since the line went up nine days ago is still live. There was quite a bit of early action at 3 to 4½.”
Other bookmakers said that even at +10 or +10.5 the public didn’t want to touch the Ravens meaning more money coming in on the favorite. The public percentage (based on number of bets) on the Don Best odds feed had 60% on the Steelers with 52% on the ‘Over’. According to VSIN’s Josh Appelbaum (his daily ‘Market Insights’ column and podcasts are essential content) there was enough ‘pushback’ from sharps taking points to keep the price from going higher:
This line originally opened with the Steelers listed as a 3-point or 4-point home favorite. But then the game went off the board and re-opened at Steelers -10, thanks in large part to Lamar Jackson missing this game and Robert Griffin III starting in his place. The public wants nothing to do with the COVID-stricken Ravens and is rushing to the window to lay the points with the unbeaten Steelers. However, despite this lopsided support, the line hasn’t budged off of Pittsburgh -10. This signals some liability on the road dog Ravens. Keep an eye out for a line move this morning and afternoon leading up to the game. If you see a game-day move down to 9.5, that will signal some pro money grabbing the Ravens. If it rises to -10.5, that could be a sign that late money is doubling down on the Steelers.
Incidentally–you’ve no doubt noticed that every sports media source wants to get into the betting game now. Even so, VSIN remains the best in the business for betting related sports news and information. I know and have worked with a lot of the guys on their team and they’re the real deal. Go check ’em out:
Their ‘all access pass’ is probably the best deal you’ll find on serious sports betting information anywhere. BTW, I don’t get a commission or anything else from VSIN–I just like what they do.
Next up for Baltimore will be a home game against the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday, December 8. Pittsburgh has the aforementioned game against ‘Football Team’ upcoming on Monday.