Free Sports Picks: NFL Marquee Matchups
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 12/24/2009
An easy straight up win on Saturday with underdog Dallas and a late Steelers' rally to force a push leaves me at 3-0-1 in NFL picks and 7-2-1 in my free football picks this season. For this weekend I have a pair of rivalry games on tap with an AFC title game rematch with major playoff implications when Baltimore visits Pittsburgh and a Sunday Night Football showdown between the playoff bound Dallas Cowboys and the hard-to-figure-out Washington Redskins.
Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)
Sunday 1 p.m.
It took them a full three days to do it but the Steelers have risen from early one-point favorites to field-goal favorites across the board. All this, too, with the Steelers' wide receiver injuries mounting and the assurance that Troy Polamalu is still a week away from returning to the field.
This is a play-in game for the Ravens and a play-out game for the Steelers. A Ravens win would all but send them to the post-season and eliminate the Steelers while a Steelers win would make things beyond convoluted heading into the final week of the season.
The Steelers swept the Ravens last season, winning both regular season meeting between the AFC North rivals and then again in the AFC Championship Game to send Pittsburgh back to a Super Bowl it eventually won.
This year the Ravens edged out a Pittsburgh team playing without Ben Roethlisberger in an overtime Sunday night game that ended up being closer than anyone thought. The 9.5-point favorite Ravens needed a mistake from young quarterback Dennis Dixon in overtime to pull out a 20-17 win.
A 42-point total would hardly be deemed high in the NFL; actually it could be considered below average. But considering these two teams, the total is definitely curious. The last five times these defenses met the total was either 34 or 35. Before that the totals were as low as 33 and no higher than 39. The last three Baltimore/Pittsburgh games have averaged 32 points.
A high-scoring affair would favor the Steelers, who will be playing at home, on their field that every other offense in the league seems to complain about with dealing with the odd wind patterns that hits a stadium situated at the confluence of three rivers. The Steelers were just in a record breaking offensive shootout last week against Green Bay. They prevailed 37-36 and Roethlisberger did something only nine other quarterbacks in NFL history have done, throw for at least 503 yards. Yes 503.
Rising to the Occasion
As was the case last week, the Steelers played up to the level of their opponent. After losing to the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns in a span of less than a month the Steelers turned around to defeat the then 9-4 Green Bay Packers. Against teams in playoff contention the Steelers are 5-2 SU when Big Ben is playing. The Steelers' wins include games against the Packers, Titans, Chargers, Vikings and Broncos. That is as impressive list of wins you will find this side of Indianapolis.
Keeping it Close
Rarely in the history of this rivalry has there been a blowout. With the postseason lives of both teams hanging in the balance you count on another close game. The Ravens have not been involved in a close game since Pittsburgh visited back on Nov. 29. Since then it was been a double-digit loss at Green Bay and blowout wins of the Lions and Bears at home. In Pittsburgh's last six games, the deciding margin has been, on average, less than four points. The nod goes to Pittsburgh in that regard.
The high total and low spread both favor the Steelers in this one. Take Pittsburgh giving the points.
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins
Sunday 8:20 p.m.
After opening at 6.5, the line made a predictable jump to seven but then a surprising turn back to 6.5. The total also made a one-point jump to 43 before falling back to 42.
Throw the Records out the Window
This game has one of those trends you see a lot in rivalry games but this is pretty extreme. When these two teams got together the last 28 times, the underdog is on a 21-7 ATS run. And the Redskins are usually the ones facing the double-digit spread and they have performed quite well lately. This game has been decided by five points or less seven out of the last 10 times and the Redskins have covered each time the line has risen above a touchdown during that span.
Hide the Women and Children
This game used to not be for the faint of heart, it was as physical as any rivalry in any sport. The last time they met it was tough to watch too, but for a different reason. The Cowboys and Redskins offense did not succeed at much except for setting the game of football back a few years.
The Redskins took a 3-0 lead to halftime, stretched that lead to 6-0 and then watched it dissipate to a 7-6 loss when Tony Romo finally found Patrick Crayton for a nine-yard touchdown with less than three minutes left. Along the way there were as many missed field goals (three) as redzone appearances by each offense.
Key to the Game
It is the Redskins' secondary.
The reason for the frustrated look on Tony Romo's face much of the last game when these teams played was because of the Redskins secondary. The fifth-ranked unit in the league is as underrated as any and they proved that against the Cowboys.
Dallas' five losses all have one thing in common. They came against a defense that had a pass defense ranked in the top half of the league. The Redskins secondary falls right there and behind the Broncos, it is actually the best secondary the Cowboys have seen this year.
The big win over former undefeated New Orleans was a season changer for Dallas but it came against a defense ranked 24th in the NFL against the pass. Tony Romo passed for 312 yards in that game, or exactly double of what he threw against Washington in the last meeting. And that was in Dallas.
Take the Redskins and the points; seven should not be hard to find come gameday but even 6.5 is a good play.