Wednesday September 10th, 2014

Ray Rice won't be on the field for Thursday's divisional clash in Pittsburgh, but the former Ravens running back's actions have dominated the headlines leading up to Baltimore's Week 2 matchup with the Steelers. The Ravens' Super Bowl odds are plummeting after a lackluster Week 1 performance, and there's no telling how this week's numerous off-field distractions will spill onto the field.

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Bettors will be watching that key sub-plot closely as the AFC North rivals clash in Baltimore, where the Ravens will try to avoid an 0-2 start. The Ravens remain a 2.5-point home favorite, a role in which they have been nearly unbeatable in recent years (28-3 SU).

But Baltimore stumbled in this situation just a few days ago en route to a 23-16 loss to another divisional opponent in Cincinnati. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh beat Cleveland 30-27 at home -- the Steelers' 26th victory in the last 29 editions of the AFC North rivalry -- but failed to cover the spread.

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The Ravens and Steelers have played some memorable games over the past few years, with the last five meetings all decided by three points or less.

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Pittsburgh has covered in each of its past three meetings with Baltimore and is 5-1 against the spread in the team’s last six games against AFC North foes.

The Steelers got an impressive performance from second-year running back Le’Veon Bell (21 carries for 109 yards and one touchdown) in Week 1 against the Browns, and Bell will likely play a big role again on Thursday with rookie Dri Archer considered questionable with a sprained ankle.

For the Ravens, look for running back Justin Forsett to seize his chance at consistent playing time, with Bernard Pierce also in the mix for carries.

Other key trends to consider before betting this game include Baltimore's 4-10-1 record against the spread in its last 15 home games against divisional opponents. The under might be a good play as well: The point total has gone under in six of Pittsburgh’s last nine games against the AFC North and in five of the Ravens' past seven games in which they are home favorites at sports books monitored by OddsShark.com.

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