Ravens vs. Steelers (-3.5) 36.5 o/u
The last meeting between these two teams took place during Week 13 in Baltimore, when an impressive performance from the Steelers defense (especially Troy Polamalu) compensated for an ineffective Steelers offense. During Pittsburgh’s 13-10 victory their defense was a disruptive force against a talent Baltimore offensive squad. Even though Raven’s quarterback Joe Flacco threw for over 250 yards he seemed uncomfortable for most game and wasn’t able to make the decisive plays to ensure a Ravens victory.
In what is likely be another defensive battle, Saturday’s rematch in Pittsburgh has three aspects which should be decisive factors in determining which team will move forward to the AFC Championship game.
First, has Joe Flacco evolved into one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL? The third year quarterback took an important first step last week against the Chiefs, shrugging off his poor playoffs performances of the past and completing over 73% of his passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns. Granted Flacco played against a Chiefs team who we now can officially label as frauds. Nonetheless, he continued his solid play from the last four games of the season and prove that he could lead the Ravens offense in a playoff game.
Statistically, Flacco hasn’t played tremendously well against the Steelers completing only 53% of his passes, averaging 203 yards per game, with 7 touchdowns to 8 interceptions. Flacco’s shaky play against the Steelers in Week 13, especially his difficulty picking up blitzes and make the proper adjustments are reason enough to question how well Flacco can perform on Saturday. Additionally, with the Steeler defense’s ability to shut down the run, the Ravens will be relying heavily on their young quarterback. But remember that Flacco is a developing quarterback who had his worst performances against the Steelers in his first two seasons in the league. Don’t be surprised if Flacco has a breakout performance and is a decisive factor in this game.
Second, who exactly are the Pittsburgh Steelers? Are the Steelers the tough unstoppable gritty team of years past? Or is this Pittsburgh team, which has only beaten one team with a winning record (Baltimore) since Week 4 of this season, quite possibly a lower tiered playoff contender ?
The Steelers have won the last 6 games against the Ravens with Ben Roethlisberger under center and seemingly have Baltimore’s number due arguably to Big Ben’s ability to make key plays to win close games. Indeed, during the Week 13 game, Roethlisberger fought through a broken nose and guided the Steelers to the game winning touchdown. Still the Pittsburgh offense was largely ineffective in that game and it was the Pittsburgh defense that provided Big Ben with a short field to score the game’s final points.
Aside from scrapping by the Ravens in Week 14, the Steelers really haven’t looked too Steeler like this season in three of their four losses to teams with winning records. In losses to New Orleans, New York and especially to New England, Pittsburgh looked more like an average NFL team and than a Super Bowl contender. In those three games, the Steelers allowed an average of 313 passing and 78.6 rushing yards and averaged over 9 fewer points than their opponent. Additionally, Pittsburgh is 5-3 at home this season, compared to 8-1 on the road.
Fortunately for Pittsburgh, they will be playing a familiar divisional rival and the one of the three winning teams they beat this year. But there may be another reason that doubt whether the Steelers can pull out the victory.
Third, the possibility of another low scoring contest put a premium on points, especially those from each team’s field goal kicker. Pittsburgh has been riding the hot hand of their kicker Shaun Suisham, who has made 14/15 field goals this year, including two in the last game against Baltimore. However, for his career Suisham has only made 80.8% and has gone through some rough periods of inaccuracy. In his only playoff game, Suisham made only one of three field goal attempts.
In comparison, the Baltimore’s kicker Billy Cundiff has also been hot this year making 26 or 29 attempts. However, Cundiff does have more playoff experience than Suisham, having played in four games and is a perfect 4 of 4 field goals.
It might not seem like much, but the additional experience and confidence might be the difference between one kicker being a hero or a goat.
Overall, I’ll take the Ravens to pull off the upset in another tightly contested game between these bitter rivals. However, if the Steelers are able to pressure and confound Joe Flacco early and often, then this game is basically a toss-up.
Ravens win, take the Ravens plus 3.5 and the over