The NFL schedule makers didn’t do the Pittsburgh Steelers any favors when it came to their current stretch of games. After beating the Cincinnati Bengals in a last-man-standing style Monday night game, the next team on the docket is none other than the Baltimore Ravens.
This prime time showdown will certainly live up to the billing, as so many of these games do. The amount of games decided by 3-points, or less, far out number the games which are decided by more than a field goal.
After the Steelers beat the Ravens in M&T Bank Stadium earlier this season for the first time since Charlie Batch was the quarterback, Baltimore will be looking to exact revenge on their AFC North rivals at Heinz Field. There certainly is a lot on the line. If the Steelers win they will claim their second straight AFC North title, and a Ravens victory would put them in prime shape to make the AFC Playoffs.
When the dust settles, which team will be victorious? NFL experts are leaning towards the Steelers in this contest, but the odds of this game being a blowout is certainly low. When I think about this game, it very well could come down to the Steelers’ passing game against the Baltimore pass defense.
The Ravens’ pass defense is one of the best in the NFL, but an injury to Jimmy Smith puts a big dent in their armour. On the flip side, JuJu Smith-Schuster’s suspension hinders a Steelers’ passing attack which has been markedly better since the midway point of the season.
This will be the matchup to watch, but the success, or failure, of Le’Veon Bell will be the ultimate deciding factor on Sunday night. Not just Bell running the football, but total yards from scrimmage. In the previous matchup this season, Bell ran all over the Ravens, who were without Brandon Williams in the middle of the field. The past few weeks have seen Bell return to his dual threat ways as both a runner and pass catcher. Bell can put stress on a defense like few others, and Todd Haley will have to stick to the plan for Pittsburgh to see offensive success.
As for the Baltimore offense, the Steelers’ plan of attack should be one which fans are extremely familiar with. Stop the run and force the game into Joe Flacco’s hands. The loss of Ryan Shazier, who leads the team in tackles and interceptions, will be huge, but an inspired effort by players like Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt could help mask his absence by stopping the run.
So, who wins this game? I like the Steelers to win their 8th straight game, but it won’t be easy. The Steelers cannot turn the ball over if they want to win the game, and that is no easy task against the stout Ravens defense, but the second-half Steelers will show up again and make enough plays to win the game.
Steelers - 27
Ravens - 20