Free Expert NFL Picks: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Odds and Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 12/30/2014
For about a decade there, Ravens-Steelers was easily the NFL's most physical and heated rivalry. It has lost a bit of steam with the recent retirements of emotional stars like Hines Ward, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, or other guys moving to other teams. It's still a Top-5 rivalry in the NFL, but Saturday night's wild-card game could be the last hurrah in some ways because two key Pittsburgh defenders who were big parts of the rivalry's heyday, linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu, might not be back next year. So enjoy this one. Just as I think Seahawks-49ers won't be the same going forward with Jim Harbaugh off to the NFL.
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Pittsburgh is your AFC North champion for the first time since 2010. The Steelers are the No. 3 seed, and thus if they win will be headed to Denver for the divisional round. The Ravens missed the playoffs last year for the first time under Coach John Harbaugh, but they are the No. 6 seed thanks to a Week 17 win against Cleveland and San Diego's loss in Kansas City (I called it that way). Thus, a Ravens win sends them to New England next week.
The Ravens and Steelers have met three times in the postseason, and Pittsburgh has won all three by at least a touchdown. Last was in the divisional round in the 2010 playoffs, with the Steelers winning 31-24 at home. The Baltimore offense was terrible that day, totaling 126 yards and turning it over three times. Pittsburgh wasn't much better with 263 yards and two giveaways. Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger remain from that game but not a lot else in the way of important players, especially on offense.
Pittsburgh is the third-favorite at Bovada to win the AFC at +700 with Baltimore fifth at +1800.
Ravens at Steelers Betting Story Lines
Let's start with the injuries first, and it's a huge, huge one for Pittsburgh -- and a reminder to teams that have something clinched in Week 17 to rest your key guys. Alas, the Steelers had to go for the AFC North title on Sunday night in Cincinnati and they did win 27-17 to sweep the Bengals. However, the team's Most Valuable Player, yes, over Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, running back Le'Veon Bell, suffered a knee injury in the third quarter when he was hit low but legally by Bengals safety Reggie Nelson.
The good news is an MRI revealed no ligament damage. A torn ACL probably would have cost Bell the start of next season. The team is calling it a hyperextended knee, and all reports are it will be very tough for Bell to play Saturday. All Bell did was rush 290 times for 1,361 yards (No. 2 in NFL) and eight touchdowns while catching 83 passes for 854 yards and three scores. Only the Cowboys' DeMarco Murray had more overall touches or yards from scrimmage.
The only other two running backs on the 53-man roster were rookies Dri Archer and Josh Harris, who have 19 NFL carries between them. Think the Steelers miss the released LeGarrette Blount now? So in a panic Pittsburgh signed Ben Tate on Tuesday. He began the season as the Browns' starter before losing his job and being cut. He finished up in Minnesota and barely played. I'm presuming Harris starts because Archer is a small, fast guy better used as a receiver out of the backfield. Harris did have a 59-yard run vs. the Bengals wiped out by a penalty. Hard to see Tate getting many touches. He could be used as a pass-blocker because the rookies won't be trusted there.
Baltimore gets good news in that defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, perhaps the most important guy on that side of the ball for the Ravens, is back after serving a four-game suspension. The five-time Pro Bowler eats up space and blockers and is vital to Baltimore stopping the run. The Ravens finished No. 4 against the run. Ngata also had two sacks and two interceptions in 12 games this season. Meanwhile, Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe is questionable after missing Week 17 with an ankle injury. Undrafted rookie James Hurst played well in his place against the Browns, but expect some blitzes coming from Joe Flacco's blind side if the rookie is in there again.
Hard to glean much from the regular season as each side won a blowout at home. Baltimore took a 26-6 victory in Week 2 on a Thursday night, three days after the team cut Ray Rice. Clearly that wasn't a distraction that night. Flacco went 21-for-29 for 166 yards and two TD throws to tight end Owen Daniels. Pittsburgh finished with only 22 fewer yards than Baltimore, but the Steelers gave it away three times to the Ravens' zero.
Week 9, Big Ben torched the Ravens for 340 yards and six touchdowns -- his record second six-TD game in a row -- in a 43-23 win. It was 7-0 Baltimore after one, but the Steelers got three Roethlisberger TD throws in the second to take a 22-10 halftime lead and they weren't really threatened after that. Bell was pretty quiet in that game as he was the first meeting. Brown went off for 11 catches, 144 yards and a score in the win.
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers NFL Wild Card Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Pittsburgh is a 3-point favorite (-110) with alternate lines of 3.5 (+115) and 2.5 (-135). The Steelers are -155 on the moneyline and the Ravens +135. The total is 46.5. Baltimore was 7-8-1 against the spread this season (3-4-1 on road) and 7-9 "over/under" (5-3 on road). Pittsburgh was 9-7 ATS (5-3 at home) and 9-7 O/U (6-2 at home).
Baltimore has covered five straight playoff games. The Ravens have covered only one of their past eight games after allowing 15 points or less in their previous outing. The Steelers are 8-0 ATS in their past eight vs. teams with a winning record. Pittsburgh has covered six straight playoff home games. The under is 4-0 in Baltimore's past four overall. The over is 11-1 in Pittsburgh's past 12 playoff home games. The Ravens are 1-4-1 ATS in the past six meetings.
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Expert Picks and Betting Predictions
Even if Bell plays, he's clearly not going to be 100 percent. Thus, it's on Roethlisberger to win this game. He did have his best season, tying Drew Brees for the most passing yards and tying a career-high with 32 TD passes. Baltimore's secondary is a question mark, and the Ravens were just No. 24 against the pass. If they don't double-team Brown then defensive coordinator Dean Pees should be fired.
I don't see this as a blowout. The five games the teams played prior to this season were decided by a total of 14 points. Flacco was great the last time he was in the playoffs, but I still trust Roethlisberger more, especially at home. Give the 2.5 points and go under. The weather looks rather sloppy Saturday night with a 90 percent chance of rain. Unfortunately, it doesn't look to be cold enough to snow.
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