One of the highlights of the NFL season comes our way this weekend as the Baltimore Ravens travel to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Sunday Night Football.
Always a game of merit, this particular edition of the fabled AFC North rivalry has taken a twist in the wake of an injury to Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Without their All-Pro QB, the Steelers will need to knock-off one of the best teams in the league.
A Rivalry for the Ages
What’s not to love about a Steelers-Ravens game, especially when it’s on primetime?
For a decade the Steelers and Ravens have battled for the NFC North division crown, with Pittsburgh taking five titles to Baltimore’s three (Cincinnati managed to edge the title away from the pair in 2005 and 2009).
An intense rivalry has translated into some truly brutal games, with tough-as-nails defense squaring-off against dominant running games.
This season is a little different though. Whilst Pittsburgh still has one of the most formidable defenses in the league (1st against the pass, 5th against the run, and 7th in opponent’s points), Baltimore has lost some of its defensive tenacity in the wake of injuries to Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. What’s more, both sides have struggled running the football this season.
Since losing 23-20 to the Ravens in November 2011, the Steelers have gone unbeaten at home in the regular season, winning seven straight at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh’s only blemish during that time was the famous overtime loss to Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos.
That Pittsburgh loss came as part of a Ravens sweep last season, which followed a Steelers sweep the season previous. Pittsburgh is 6-4 over the last 10 against Baltimore.
Big Ben Bruised, Battered and Broken
Injured in last Monday’s game against Kansas City, Ben Roethlisberger will be absent from Sunday night’s big match-up with the Ravens. A sprained shoulder coupled with a dislocated rib, which has been reported to have been pushing up against the aorta, means Pittsburgh’s triggerman is a no go.
Backup quarterback Byron Leftwich will take to the field on Sunday night. Prior to last week’s game spelling the injured Roethlisberger, Leftwich’s current tenure with Pittsburgh had consisted of one drive in a 41-9 victory over the Cleveland Browns on January 2, 2011. Leftwich completed five of seven passes that day.
The backup also appeared in five games for the Steelers in his first stint with the team back in 2008.
Since leaving Jacksonville – where he was a starter- in 2006, Leftwich is 0-5 as a starter, getting nods for Atlanta and Tampa Bay.
The switch in quarterback has seen an eight-point swing in the point spread. The line opened with Pittsburgh as 4½-point favorites, but Roethlisberger’s absence has seen Baltimore take a 3½-point advantage.
Why such a big swing? Well, despite Pittsburgh’s 9-6 record (since 2004) when Roethlisberger is out injured, the team is 0-4 against the Ravens during that time. In order to win this weekend, Leftwich and Pittsburgh need to end that particular trend.
Looking for an Edge
Pittsburgh leads the all-time head-to-head 21-14 and has won 13 of the last 19 in Pittsburgh.
The Ravens will try to become the first team to knock-off the Steelers in Pittsburgh since achieving that feat last year. However, Baltimore is only 2-2 on the road this year. Those wins – against Kansas City and Cleveland – were hardly noteworthy either.
Pittsburgh enters the contest with a four-game winning streak and having won five of six. Baltimore has won its last two and six of seven all told.
With the spread at 3½, bettors have a decision to make. Both sides are 4-5 ATS this season, which means there is no distinctive advantage here.
The over/under has fallen from 46 to 40 following the confirmation that Roethlisberger will not start. Pittsburgh has seen the total go under six times this season, a demonstration of its defensive prowess. Meanwhile, Baltimore has seen the total go over five times, a result of both its weakened defense and its offensive prowess – the Ravens are fourth in the league in scoring this year.
The main advantage in this one goes to Baltimore thanks to Roethlisberger’s absence, but don’t expect anything less than another all-our war on the field. The winner of this war may have the advantage going down the stretch, but remember that these two goliaths go at it again in just two weeks’ time.