After 17 long and gruelling weeks of NFL regular season action, the post-season is finally upon us and that’s great news here at The Sports Geek. I’ll be focusing on the AFC match-ups for this special wild-card weekend and what better way to spend your Saturday evening than matching one of football’s best and most heated rivalries in a do-or-die situation. Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens will travel to Steeltown to take on Big Ben and his Pittsburgh Steelers. Recently this has been one of the NFL’s top and most frequent rivalries and yet another playoff showdown will certainly only heighten the animosity these squads share for one another. The huge storyline entering this contest was the health of key Pittsburgh running back, Le’Veon Bell who injured his knee in Week 17. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh he’s been ruled out the day before kickoff and the Steelers offense will dearly miss him. Can this Pittsburgh team still move on even without their arguable MVP in Bell? Read on to find out! As always there’s a full game breakdown and an official wager listed below to get this playoff season off on a winning note.
Ravens at Steelers Betting Odds:
Baltimore Ravens +3 (+110)
@ Pittsburgh Steelers -3 (-130)
Over 44.5 (-110)
Under 44.5 (-110)
Betting odds provided by Bovada.lv
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Ravens at Steelers Pick:
My initial lean in this contest, especially upon hearing the Le’Veon Bell injury news, was to back the Over. Both teams have solid passing attacks and are going against vastly inferior secondaries. Baltimore and Pittsburgh would be forced to the air due to their running attacks being shut down and as a result the chances for a higher scoring affair seemed to be in the cards. However, there are some scar reports of rain, wind, and temperatures hovering around the freezing mark for tonight’s contest in Pittsburgh. As the total continues to drop, some value may emerge on the Over in this game, but it’s become clear that a more solid play exists in this rivalry showdown.
It will become clear early in this contest, that the Pittsburgh Steelers are wildly vulnerable to conceding the big play. The Ravens offense is predicated on the ‘big play’ and have plenty of personnel that can exploit their inferior counterparts on the Steelers’ defense. On the ground, Justin Forsett has been a revelation in this offense and has enjoyed a breakout season at running back for Baltimore. Though the Ravens don’t possess a dominant ground game, the place where Forsett runs most often in this offense is behind his right tackle. Baltimore does this a staggering 25% of all rushing plays. Pittsburgh meanwhile, is most vulnerable on running plays toward that area, ranking 29th in the league in that category. So expect Baltimore to have some steady progress rushing the ball, and keeping the chains moving.
However, the fun doesn’t stop there for the Ravens’ offense. Where they’re most dangerous is with their aerial attack, and although Joe Flacco has shown an ability to be quite erratic, the Steelers’ secondary is there for the taking. Dominating through the air is the best way to defeat Pittsburgh, and look for Baltimore to do just that against their 30th-ranked pass defense. Not to mention the fact that the Steelers rank 29th in the entire league on deep passes (balls that travel more than 16 yards). These are staggering figures, and Flacco is in a position to have a great game against a pretty pedestrian Pittsburgh defense. The ageing Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu won’t be able to contain the speed of the Smiths, Torrey and Smith, and look for those deep balls to be a continual threat throughout this contest. It’s also expected that Baltimore will get their blind-side protector along the O-Line Eugene Monroe back for this match-up. Monroe is imperative to giving Flacco time and space, and look for that to limit the Steelers’ currently in-form pass rush. If Flacco is given room, it’s going to be a long, long night for an overrated Steelers defense. But be sure to monitor Monroe’s status prior to kickoff! Pittsburgh’s got a defense that really relies on getting the big stop. They’ll concede their yardage, but will ultimately hold teams to field goals – the bend but don’t break approach. That worked earlier in the season against Baltimore, but in a game of this magnitude, look for the skill of the Ravens offense to win out against a very vulnerable Pittsburgh secondary.
When Pittsburgh possesses the football, it’s going to be very interesting to see how the Steelers cope without Le’Veon Bell. Bell was simply their MVP this season as he rushed brilliantly, while also being very effective in pass protection for Roethlisberger. The combination of Ben Tate, Dri Archer, and Josh Harris won’t be nearly as effective and could end up hurting the Steelers due to their overall unfamiliarity with the team concepts. Bell was also an excellent receiver out of the backfield, often keeping opposing defenses in check as it was yet another thing to worry about. With Archer, Harris, and Tate that threat just does not exist. Baltimore really doesn’t need to respect the run, and should be able to strictly focus on halting Big Ben through the air. And while the Ravens just like the Steelers, are certainly vulnerable through the air, the Ravens present an absolutely ferocious pass rush. Haloti Ngata will be back for this contest and the linebacker duo of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil combined for 29 sacks this season. Baltimore will be all over Roethlisberger, and even though he’s a difficult guy to bring down, the pressure he’ll face will become difficult to work through. In Week 9, Baltimore sacked Big Ben on three straight plays, and look for more of the same Saturday evening.
Roethlisberger will need to be excellent for Pittsburgh to consistently move the ball against Baltimore. He might turn in yet another heroic performance, and it still might not be enough. With bad weather looming and precipitation highly likely, the ball and surface will be slippery, and the Ravens have a far more reliable run game than the Steelers do right now. Four of the five Pittsburgh losses this season have come when they’ve conceded 120 yards rushing, and the Ravens have eclipsed that figure 10 times this year. Baltimore just has so many more ways to win this contest since Le’Veon Bell is not playing. There are also a ton of big question marks with his absence, most notably how well will Roethlisberger be protected against Baltimore’s fearsome pass rush? Ultimately the Ravens are the right side and the safer side for tonight’s key showdown. Even though this rivalry has been dominated by the home side, the time is now for Joe Flacco to have a big game against a bad Pittsburgh secondary. All the pieces are in place and look for the Ravens to secure a narrow, one-score victory. Right now, the line currently sits at Baltimore +3, but you could likely find a +3.5 closer to kickoff. Big Ben will be special, but he can’t do it himself, and the Ravens win in Pittsburgh.
PICK = Ravens +3 (+110)