The Ravens and Steelers meet for the third time this season, this time with the season on the line in the wild card round of the playoffs. Since the Browns left Cleveland and became the Ravens the Steelers hold a 24-17 edge in this division rivalry. After five consecutive games that were decided by three or fewer points, this year’s results were not at all close. Baltimore won 26-6 on a Thursday night game in week two, but Pittsburgh turned the tables with a 20-point victory of their own at home in week nine as Ben Roethlisberger threw for 340 yards and six touchdowns.
Much has been made of the fact that Pittsburgh running back Steelers Le’Veon Bell has been ruled out. Bell led the AFC 2,315 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns this season, and accounted for 35% of Pittsburgh’s total yards this season. To me Bell’s absence is being overblown. In the 43-23 victory over the Ravens in November, Bell only had 58 yards from scrimmage. The biggest weakness for Baltimore is their secondary, especially ever since CB Jimmy Smith was placed on injured reserve in early November. Anthony Levine played his way out of a starting position, Danny Gorrer joined Smith on IR, and that has led to former practice squad member Rashaan Melvin and street free agent Antoine Cason being counted on far too heavily in the secondary opposite Lardarius Webb.
Baltimore does get DT Haloti Ngata back from a four-game PED supension, which should help their defense. On the other side of the ball LT Eugene Monroe returns from an ankle injury, but they at RT James Hurst has been a liability since Rick Wagner went out with a foot injury two weeks ago.
Earlier in the season Ben Roethlisberger and the Steeler offense got all the attention, as Pittsburgh scored 124 points in a three-game winning streak. However it has been better performances by the defense that has propelled the Steelers to the division title and a four-game winning streak to finish the season. Pittsburgh forced seven turnovers in the last four games after generating just 14 in the first twelve games. Their lack of ability to take the ball away has been a major factor in why they had missed the playoffs the last two years; if the Steelers can continue this trend they can be a major player in the post-season.
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) ★★★★★
Saturday night game on NBC
Announcing crew: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michelle Tafoya
In crunch time at the end of the year the Ravens did not look good, and Joe Flacco in particular did not play well. Pittsburgh on the other hand was playing better and better at season’s end, but the absence of Le’Veon Bell cannot be completely discounted. Running backs Dri Archer and Josh Harris have combined for a mere 19 rushes this season. You have to wonder why Mike Tomlin didn’t give LeGarrette Blount some more touches to help keep Bell fresh for the playoffs, and it is mystifying why Tomlin did not give Archer and Harris more carries once Blount was waived. Despite that gaffe I just don’t see Flacco suddenly emerging from his funk against the Pittsburgh defense, or the Raven secondary being able to contain WR Antonio Brown.
Pick • Steelers 31, Ravens 24
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