Part 2 of a 4 part Wild Card weekend preview. Click HERE to read the Cardinals at Panthers preview.
The Saturday night game this weekend is the one that NBC was hoping for. FOX fought hard for Lions/Cowboys, but NBC will be happy with another Ravens/Steelers war. The highlight of the Saturday slate, this game should be another classic between the two NFC North Rivals
Line at Press Time: Steelers are 3 point favorites
The two teams split their regular season matchups, both winning by twenty points. Baltimore won in week two 26-6, while the Steelers won 43-23 in week nine.
Steelers offense vs Ravens Defense
Pittsburgh owns the number 2 passing offense in the league, averaging 301.6 yards per game. They should be able to move the ball quite well against the Ravens’ 23rd rank passing defense. However, Baltimore will be ready to attack the passing game more due to Le’Veon Bell’s injury. If Bell cannot go, and as of today he’s questionable to doubtful with a knee injury, then the pendulum swings to the Ravens favor. The Steelers do not have any backup that scares you. In fact, their two running backs on the roster currently have a combined 19 carries between them. Josh Harris has 10 and rookie Dri Archer has 9. That’s a stark contrast to Bell’s 290. Since releasing LeGarrette Blount in November, Pittsburgh has relied solely on Bell as the running back. It’s a steep drop off, one that the Ravens should be able to take advantage of.
The passing game also takes a hit. Bell is second on the Steelers both in receptions and targets (83 and 105, respectively). Nobody has been able to stop Antonio Brown yet this year, and the Ravens are no exception. Brown amassed 18 catches for 234 yards in the two regular season meetings, and I expect him to put up gaudy numbers again Saturday. However, Baltimore should be able to slow down Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant. Especially since they will be more committed to stopping the pass. Ben Roethlisberger may be in for a long night, but he is up for the challenge.
Ravens offense vs Steelers Defense
This comes down to one thing. Which Joe Flacco will show up? Will it be the average, regular season Joe Flacco? Or his playoff counterpart? You can pass on the Steelers. Pittsburgh ranks 27th in the league against the pass. Flacco should be able to exploit the Steelers through the air with the Smiths (Steve and Torrey). Combine that with a balance attack by the surprising Justin Forsett and the Ravens have a good shot to score points in this one.
Flacco only turned the ball over once vs Pittsburgh this year. The Steelers will play their usual hard hitting defense and will try to make Flacco beat them rather than Forsett. I don’t expect this game to be too high scoring. The Ravens should stick to the ground game and take calculated chances in the air. If this turns into one of those games where they inexplicably let Flacco throw the ball 45 times then all bets are off.
Much like the early game Saturday, this game could also be decided by field position and special teams. In addition to being the leagues best receiver, Antonio Brown is also dominant as a punt returner. Baltimore would be smart to not punt the ball to him ever. Just concede and punt the ball out of bounds.
The pick: It’s a Ravens/Steelers playoff game. It will be nasty. It will be physical. There will be a ton of trash talk. This game will be decided by three points. I like the Ravens in a slight upset. The loss of Le’Veon Bell will be too much to overcome for the Steelers. Ravens 20 Steelers 17.