The Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2) seek vengeance against the Baltimore Ravens (5-2) on the national stage this evening, for Sunday Night Football action between two teams in the middle of one of the most heated rivalries in NFL Football. After the Steelers were handed a tough season-opening loss to the Ravens in Week 1 by a score of 35-7, Pittsburgh has been working hard week in and week out to erase to tough taste from that defeat, moving to the top of the AFC North division, and will look to return to their strong form against Baltimore tonight at home at Heinz Field. Looking for its fifth straight win in a row and six of seven overall since that season-opening game, the Steelers could be the ones to beat in this match-up, provided they can avoid some of the same mistakes that sent them to one of the worst losses in recent memory against a team they have historically had the better hand against. No doubt however, Baltimore will look to prove their recent victory against the Steelers wasn’t just a fluke, and in this clash of premier defenses we can certainly expect a much more competitive showdown than the first go-around between the two teams on September 11th.
The Baltimore Ravens have been finding ways to win, even though their offense hasn’t been that impressive. A key concern heading into this match-up is quarterback Joe Flacco, who has not only been an absolute nightmare for anyone in fantasy football who drafted him, has also been wildly inconsistent despite Baltimore winning its last four of five games played. Despite throwing for 3 touchdowns against Pittsburgh in Week 1, Flacco has only found an end zone target once in the last 4 weeks, and barely escaped with a win against lowly Arizona last week despite throwing for 336 yards (no TDs, 1 INT). With a miserable 53.8 percent completion ratio, and 6 of his 8 touchdowns coming in two games, Flacco simply needs to be more consistent in today’s game, and could very much benefit from a similar performance he had in Week 1 against the Steelers (224 yards, 3 TDs, 117.6 passer rating). With the Steelers settling in this season with the #2 overall defense (second only to Baltimore ironically), and having the league’s best passing offense (allowing just 171.6 yards/game), the Ravens are going to need to spread the offense around quite a bit today, as it can’t be expected that the Ray Rice show puts up another 385 total yard performance in a grudge match where Pittsburgh will be more than amped up to keep the Ravens out of the end zone.
Pittsburgh on the other hand has confidence back in their starting quarterback Ben Rothlisberger, who has posted 4 straight wins and two straight games throwing over 320 yards and will look to make up from one of his worst outings in recent memory against the vaunted Ravens defense in Week 1. After throwing 3 interceptions in the 35-7 loss to Baltimore, Rothlisberger has really settled down with a great cast of receivers to become a serious passing threat (currently ranking 8th in the league at 273.4 yards/game). Boosted by the presence of Mike Wallace (leading Steeler receivers with 43 catches, 800 yards, 5 TDs), Antonio Brown, Hines Ward and tight end Heath Miller, there’s plenty of great hands to throw to, but whether or not those hands will be able to catch many balls against 3rd-ranked passing defense is another question entirely. Especially with the running harder to come by for Rashard Mendenhall this season (3.9 yard average, only 3 rushing TDs), the Steelers passing game is going to have to find a way to beat the veteran Ravens in a few places downfield in order to move the scoreboard up 6 points at a time. With Baltimore certain to contain the run game in much the same way as they did in Week 1 (allowing just 66 total yards rushing), Pittsburgh will definitely expect Ben Rothlisberger to buck up and exercise a precision passing game, capitalizing on short routes to multiple receivers to help eliminate focus on coverage by the Ravens.
There are a number of interesting notes to take into account for tonight’s match-up, and injury concerns for the Steelers are certainly one of them. With key defensive personnel injuries including those to linebackers James Farrior (questionable for game time), LaMarr Woodley (out), and James Harrison (expected to play after missing 4 weeks with a bone fracture), it’ll be interesting to see how Pittsburgh rotates in new faces into the linebacker corps, and how they deal with Ray Rice in the Baltimore backfield, who is certain to be in both the rushing and passing attack for the Ravens. Also of interest is the fact that despite having the #2 total defense in the league, Pittsburgh has not done nearly as well as usual at forcing turnovers (only 3 on the season). Against Joe Flacco (4 fumbles and 6 INTs on the season), it will be paramount for the Steeler D to pressure him into uncomfortable positions, and keep him from making good throws in the pocket (which he was able to do in the Week 1 win). With the Steelers looking for their 8th straight win at home tonight however, and 7 of the last 10 against Baltimore, you can all but expect the Dick LeBeau-led Steeler D to respond well to their Week 1 loss, putting lots of blitzing pressure on Flacco, and hopefully finding a clutch INT from defensive stalwart Troy Polamalu to be one of the big factors in tonight’s showdown. However, you can never discount the ability of the Ravens top NFL defense to be a huge factor in games like this as well, with veterans like Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata all looking to force pressure on the Steeler offense, and make that one big play that could swing the tide of the game in Baltimore’s direction.
Betting Lines for Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore at Betonline.com
Betonline.com Sportsbook is the featured top online sportsbook for Sunday’s foray into NFL Football wagering, and as such we jump down to check out the lines on this featured NFL match-up whereby the home team Pittsburgh Steelers get a slight favorite in today’s game at -190 odds on the money line, while the visiting Baltimore Ravens stand as +165 underdogs. Expecting a defensive showdown in response to the Week 1 blowout in Baltimore, look for the Steelers to be key in keeping the Ravens offense frustrated (much like the Jacksonville Jaguars were able to do a few weeks back), and for the over/under total points at 42 to be tested on the low end this Sunday night. Against the spread, Pittsburgh gives up 3 points (-125 odds) in a close game while Baltimore gets 3 points (+105 odds), indicating that this game should go down to the wire this evening.
Our Pick to Win:
While many are pointing to a likelihood that Baltimore can repeat its Week 1 drudging of the Steelers, these two teams seem to be on very different courses. Pittsburgh builds confidence off a gutsy 25-17 victory over the Patriots last week, while Baltimore struggled from 21 points down to barely beat the Arizona Cardinals on the Ravens’ own turf. Consistency is really key in match-ups like these, and I simply can’t find a reason to expect consistency from the Ravens’ offensive leader Joe Flacco. Though a tight game is likely and neither team will run away with the game, Pittsburgh playing at home is a monster that I won’t wager against, despite what other sportsbooks and betting analysts might be saying. Look for a low-scoring, defensive match-up in tonight’s game with both teams looking to protect against the pass and clog the running lanes, and for the Steelers to edge out an ugly meeting with a 21-17 win at home tonight.