Joe Haden

Steelers betting favorites over rival Ravens for Sunday Night Football

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Ben Roethlisberger will face a defense that has given him fits without one of his best receivers on Sunday night, while the betting line is set right at the point where the Pittsburgh Steelers cause fits for bettors.

The Steelers are listed as a 4.5-point favorite against the Baltimore Ravens with a 43.5-point total for the Week 14 Sunday Night Football matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Over the last four seasons, Pittsburgh is 7-1 straight-up but 4-4 against the spread when favored by 3.5 to 6.5 points at home. The Ravens have been a consistent cover against AFC North competition, to the tune of 10-2 ATS in their last 12 games vs. divisional opponents. That trend might overlap with the Steelers being 5-0 SU in their last five divisional home games.

The Ravens are 7-5 SU and 6-5-1 ATS, but are 0-3 SU against teams presently in a playoff position. Whether they can rise to meet the level of the Steelers will likely start with whether the offensive line anchored by LT Ronnie Stanley and RT Austin Howard, which has allowed only one sack in the past two games, can shut down DE Cameron Heyward and the Pittsburgh pass rush (which is second in the NFL with 40 sacks).

If they hold up, QB Joe Flacco and targets such as WR Breshad Perriman and WR Mike Wallace could exploit a Steelers pass defense that has been rather generous at allowing long-strike completions since CB Joe Haden (fibula) went down.

Baltimore, through Alex Collins, is solid in the rushing phase. It’s hard to know what to expect from Pittsburgh’s run defense in the team’s first game since a serious injury to ILB Ryan Shazier (spine).

The Steelers are 10-2 SU and 6-6 ATS and Roethlisberger has an ugly 4-to-6 touchdown pass/interception ratio across his last five games against the Ravens. With CB Jimmy Smith (ACL/PED suspension) out of the picture, it is just a matter of when WR Antonio Brown will break off a big play. The Steelers will be counting on Eli Rogers or Martavis Bryant to fill in for the absence of JuJu Smith-Schuster (suspension).

Without Smith-Schuster, who is excellent at sealing off defenders as a run blocker, the Steelers might use more double tight-end sets with Jesse James and Vance McDonald. That could serve two purposes: opening lanes for RB Le'Veon Bell, who scampered for 186 rushing-receiving yards against the Ravens in Week 4, as well as seizing on the Ravens’ year-long struggles covering tight ends.

Pittsburgh, second to New England on the odds to win the AFC championship, is 1-3 ATS in its last four games against the Ravens, and 1-3 ATS over its last four, but between Brown, Bell and Heyward they have three difference-makers at key spots.

The total has gone over in six of the Ravens’ last eight games. The total has gone over in the Steelers’ last five games in Week 14.

For more info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the new OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Josh Gordon shines in preseason debut for Browns

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Josh Gordon showed why the Cleveland Browns are so happy to have him back on the field.

The talented receiver with a history of suspensions for drug violations caught everything thrown his way in his preseason debut Friday night, scoring on a 43-yard reception and also hauling in another pass from Robert Griffin III for a 44-yard gain that led to a first quarter field goal in a 30-13 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Jameis Winston threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns in one half of work for the Bucs, who achieved an objective of starting faster on offense than they did the previous two weeks.

Griffin completed 8 of 14 passes for 119 yards, one TD and no interceptions before being replaced by Josh McCown at the start of the third quarter. Gordon was only targeted twice and finished with 87 yards receiving, both his catches coming when he beat cornerback Brent Grimes, one of Tampa Bay’s key offseason acquisitions.

Gordon, whose preseason debut was delayed by a quadriceps injury, hadn’t played since December 2014. He was suspended all of last season for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse, and won’t be eligible for the first four games of this regular season.

A Pro Bowl selection in 2013 when he had 87 catches for 1,646 yards and nine TDs, Gordon has been the subject of trade speculation during training camp. Although the Browns have said they’re not interested in moving him, and Gordon has said he wants to remain in Cleveland, club executive Sashi Brown said Thursday that like any player, there is a price for the 25-year-old receiver, who has been suspended for 27 of the last 32 games.

The NFL Network reported Friday that price is a “second-rounder and more.”

BIG PLAY DUO

Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans had five receptions for 115 yards, including a 34-yard TD from Winston, who completed 16 of 25 passes in what likely was his final tuneup for the regular season.

ROOKIE WATCH

Browns: First-round draft pick WR Corey Coleman played after sitting out the first preseason games with a sore hamstring.

Buccaneers: Struggling K Roberto Aguayo rebounded from missing three kicks in the first two weeks of the preseason, booting field goals of 48, 21 and 27 yards and making all three of his extra points. The second-round draft pick missed an extra point at Philadelphia two weeks ago, then failed to convert a pair of field goals against Jacksonville. He had a rough week in practice, too, missing two field goals and getting booed by fans attending a Browns-Bucs joint practice.

POSITION BATTLES

Browns: CB Jamar Taylor, who has replaced Tramon Williams as a starter, got spun around in coverage on Evans’ TD catch.

Buccaneers: LG Josh Allen and RG Evan Smith filled in for starters Kevin Pamphile and Ali Marpet, who did not dress.

NEW LOOK

The Buccaneers unveiled six new video boards with a total display area of 28,416 square feet, which the team says is the third largest in the NFL. The Hall of Fame Club, a premium seating area located on the suite level of Raymond James Stadium, also made its debut.

INJURY UPDATE:

Browns: In addition to Gordon (quad) and Coleman, CB Joe Haden (ankle surgery) made his preseason debut; CB Tramon Williams (toe) did not dress; C Cameron Erving (ankle), played after being hurt during Wednesday’s joint practice; CB Justin Gilbert (concussion) and WR Marlon Moore (hip) left the game in the second quarter.

Buccaneers: WR Donteea Dye suffered a hamstring injury in the first quarter and did not return; LB Daryl Smith, TE Luke Stocker, DT Clinton McDonald and reserve RB Mike James did not dress.

AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL