Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to our readers and visitors, and Oh what a jolly way to celebrate the day than with good food, friends and family and a fresh installment of one of the NFL’s most bitterest rivalries? That’s right, the Baltimore Ravens will visit the Pittsburgh Steelers tonight, on a game that has immediate post-season implications for both teams.
The Ravens have won four straight games against Pittsburgh, and will want to continue that trend since they have the rare knack for stopping Le’Veon Bell when no other team can. He had his worst game of the season against them back in Week 9, when he rushed for a measly 32 yards on 14 carries. Overall he has averaged only 67.7 yards per game against Baltimore in his career. But since their last meeting so much has changed. QB Ben Roethlisberger is finally in a good state of health and feels ready to go the distance, whereas the Ravens look weak, especially if they will be without cornerback Jimmy Smith, the only man really capable of covering Antonio Brown.
It’s a bitter AFC North rivalry that will be renewed tonight and as per usual the stakes will be high. The Steelers have a one-game lead in the battle to win the AFC North and if they can pull off a win tonight they can clinch the division title. But a victory over the Ravens is never easy. Baltimore needs the win to keep its division title hopes alive so they are desperate. But even of they lose, Raven’s head coach John Harbaugh knows that his team is still in the mix to get a wild card spot, but he does not want to be in that position if they can win in Pittburgh.
Steelers head coach also understands the urgency of the game, Mike Tomlin described it quite clearly earlier this week:
“One game for the North title. If you can’t get up for that, then you’re a dead man.” So we can expect the Steelers to be playing their heart out in front of their home crowd.
The the winner will obviously be taking the driver’s seat for being crowned with the division title, getting home advantage in the playoffs. The Steelers are being favored by six points on most betting sites, and they’ll put two streaks to this test on Sunday.
The first being that Pittsburgh could get a sixth straight win against Baltimore which would be a pretty addition to an already amazing December record. The Steelers are 12-1-1 against the spread in their last 14 games played in December, and secondly, they have covered the spread every game of their current six game win streak. But the Ravens have a streak of their own too: Four straight wins against the Steelers, which includes a 13-point win in Pittsburgh this past January, and they would love to make it a fifth.
The Steelers offense will rely heavily on Le’Veon Bell, who has blown apart opposing defenses during their win streak. Last week he was short seven yards of a fifth straight 100-yard rushing performance. He’s also caught at least four passes in every game he’s played this season, now that’s impressive! He is the key and the main person the Ravens defense will have to focus on. It’s a defense that will need to tighten up who have been exposed for 53 points over their last two games. That will need to stop.
These kinds of games are always too close to call confidently, but the Steelers definitely have the edge and everyone knows it. The Steelers are at home, they are healthy offensvely, and they know that the Ravens are without Jimmy Smith to boot. So that’s why Pittsburgh might come into the game cocky.
The implications for the playoffs and the rivalry aspect make this game an exciting holiday extravaganza. The Ravens will come into a less than friendly atmosphere on Sunday night and they thrive on that. Pittsburgh does have injuries on the defensive line and that will cause a problem against a big and physical Baltimore offensive line if they are not smart. But, the Steelers’ defense has been strong in the second half of the year, and the offense has been more confident and effetcive at home.
Ladarius Green will likely still be sidelined tonight so Ben Roethlisberger will need a big effort from his secondary options. That means Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton and Jesse James will have to work hard to prevent the Ravens from putting too much attention on Antonio Brown. Pittsburgh’s injuries do cast doubt on both sides of the ball, but Roethlisberger and Le’Vevon Bell can carry the offense to a couple of key drives if they fall behind, but their defense will have to prevent the Ravens from landing any big plays this time around.
A fun and very close game should be expected, so much so that the Steelers will be prevented from clinching the division, and Baltimore will win an important games that should make the post-season that more exciting to watch.