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Steelers vs. Ravens preview: Steelers matchup against backups is no ‘gimme’ in Week 18

The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the Baltimore Ravens to close out the regular season. Here’s a what to expect.

Mason Rudolph #2 hands the ball off to Najee Harris #22 of the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lumen Field on December 31, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. Photo by Conor Courtney/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are heading back to Baltimore this week for their final game of the 2023 NFL regular season — and boy, is this one bound to be a doozy. Kickoff against the Ravens is set for Saturday, January 6 at 4:30 p.m. ET from M&T Bank Stadium, airing on ESPN.

With the Ravens having secured the No. 1 seed in the AFC and a first-round bye, there’s no incentive to play their starters in this game, meaning the Steelers are set to face a number of backups in a must-win game to help keep their playoff hopes alive. Still, with some starters still likely to get at least some playing time, paired with the quality of their depth and the fact that these backups are playing for their own livelihoods, this game is not a “gimme” by any stretch of the imagination.

Here’s a preview of all you need to know for the Steelers-Ravens game in Week 18, including game information, injury updates, odds and more for the 60th meeting of these two franchises in their long and rivaled history.

The state of the Ravens

The Steelers and Ravens last met back in Week 5, as Pittsburgh handed Baltimore one of the only three losses they’ve incurred to this point in the season. Things looked less certain for the Ravens at that point, sitting at 3-2 to close out that matchup, but boy, have things changed in the months since. After starting off the season with a number of key injuries, they have since improved their health, and it showed in a big way as the season went on. Regardless of health, however, the Ravens do intend to be without a number of their starters in this game, given that they’re not playing for anything other than, perhaps, the opportunity to scout their depth in this game.

On the offense, the Ravens will be without starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, right guard Kevin Zeitler, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and perhaps rookie wideout Zay Flowers, listed as doubtful with a calf injury. They’ll start backup Tyler Huntley in Jackson’s place, who is a familiar face to the Steelers despite being their backup. Huntley has started eight games for the Ravens in his career (3-5 record), with three of those having come against the Steelers. Huntley went 1-2 in those starts, though notably, the single win was a game closed out by his own backup after being forced from the game with a concussion.

Huntley, like Jackson, is an athletic quarterback who will likely pose a decent threat as a runner. He’s averaged 136 passing yards per game while totaling 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions against the Steelers in the two games he started and finished, having totaled 19 rush attempts for 96 rushing yards in such outings.

The state of the Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers may be going up against a backup quarterback and potentially others down the depth chart on both the offense and the defense, don’t expect this outing to be a cakewalk for them. They carry some momentum offensively into this game, coming off back-to-back games with 30+ points scored. The run game is humming with the duo of Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. The quarterback leading those efforts? Pretty good, too.

After starting quarterback Kenny Pickett went down with an ankle injury in Week 13’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the Steelers turned to Mitch Trubisky in an experiment gone wrong. However, in their third game without Pickett, they gave career backup Mason Rudolph the start — and he ran with it. In his first two starts since the 2021 season, Rudolph threw for 564 passing yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions for a 118.4 passer rating. His efforts as a passer complemented the run game to perfection, as those two efforts created the perfect storm for their first back-to-back games of 30+ points scored since the 2020 season. Now, they’ll look to Rudolph to make his third start of the season, with a healthy Kenny Pickett playing behind him as their No. 2.

Of course, the Ravens defense, even without several of their top contributors (CB Marlon Humphrey out, S Kyle Hamilton questionable, among others), will pose a much greater challenge than Rudolph had faced against the Bengals and Seahawks in that span — two struggling defense that have each ranked among the league’s worst in recent weeks. Baltimore’s defense ranks No. 1 in the league in defensive DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), thanks both to their superstars and the superb quality of their depth.

On the injury front, the Steelers enter this matchup with the good news that inside linebacker Elandon Roberts is expected to play after missing Week 17 with a pectoral injury. The biggest question will be the availability of safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick (knee) and Trenton Thompson (neck), both questionable with their respective injuries. They’ve both missed each of the last two weeks, with career cornerback Patrick Peterson and defensive back Eric Rowe getting the bulk of snaps at safety in their place. Peterson and Rowe have accounted for two of the team’s three interceptions over the past two games. Notably, Rowe has been picked on a bit more in coverage, having given up a team-high 12 catches for 157 yards as the nearest defender in coverage.

Steelers vs. Ravens: Head-to-head stats 2023

Stat Steelers Ravens
Stat Steelers Ravens
Yards per game 305.3 379.5
Yards per play 5.1 6
Touchdowns 29 54
Giveaways 14 17
Penalties-Yards 82-728 99-929
D/ST touchdowns 2 2
Points allowed/gm 19.6 16.4
Yards allowed/gm 349.5 302.1
Turnovers/gm 1.56 1.81
Sacks 43 57

Unsurprisingly, the Baltimore Ravens outmatch the Steelers in just about every metric, both on offense and defense, but how they match up statistically in Week 18 will be a whole other question, considering how many players they intend to sit. Though the absence of some of their stars may make this a more evenly-matched contest for the Steelers, it’s still bound to be a challenging one.

Steelers-Ravens Week 18 odds, betting splits

Heading into the weekend, the Steelers are installed as 3.5-point road favorites on DraftKings Sportsbook, with the odds remaining steady throughout the week. The over/under is set at 35 points, sitting as low as it is because the Ravens will be sitting Lamar Jackson (and likely several other key contributors to prevent injury/allow rest ahead of the postseason).

Just two days out from kickoff, the majority of point spread bets (71%) have been wagered on the Ravens to cover +3.5, as well as the majority of the handle that’s been wagered (69%). Interestingly, while the majority of bets (63%) wagered on the Steelers-Ravens point total (35) have wagered on the OVER, the majority of the handle wagered on the Steelers-Ravens point total has been wagered on the UNDER at 68%. That indicates some sharp money favoring a low-scoring affair.

The Steelers have covered the spread in five of their past seven games dating back through the 2020 season, with the UNDER hitting all but one of those games. The average combined point total for Steelers-Ravens matchups in that span has been 34.1.

All odds come courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook. Odds/lines are subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.