After the first three quarters, it seemed the Baltimore Ravens’ playoff bid was set to end in Week 17. They trailed Cleveland 10-3 before exploding for a 17-point fourth period. The comeback win sent the Ravens to their fifth playoff appearance over the past six years. They now meet heated rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers in an intriguing wild-card matchup.
Can the Ravens record the upset and keep their dream of a second Super Bowl title in three seasons alive? Read on as we give you everything you need to know heading into this game.
Want to know what’s going on in the AFC? Check out our preview for the Cincinnati Bengals vs. Indianapolis Colts wild-card matchup. In the meantime, you can also check out our preview of the the NFC’s Lions vs. Cowboys game on Sunday.[sc:Football ]
Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Preview
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
When: Saturday, January 3, 8:15 PM ET
Line: Baltimore Ravens (+3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3); total: 47.0 – view all NFL lines
Betting on the Baltimore Ravens
Everything rests on Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco led the Ravens’ late rally against the Cleveland Browns, going 8-for-9 for 161 yards and two touchdowns for a 20-10 win. His passer rating in the decisive fourth quarter was a perfect 158.3.
[sc:NFL240banner ]Flacco finished the regular season with a career-high 27 touchdown passes. He’ll need to keep hot to be able to exploit Pittsburgh’s porous pass defense that has allowed 30 passing touchdowns this season (tied for fourth in the league).
The Baltimore quarterback’s game has been up-and-down this season, but he’s had his success throwing against Pittsburgh in two games this season. Flacco completed 21 of 29 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns while avoiding taking a sack in a 26-6 Week 2 home win, and went 30-for-45 for 303 yards with two touchdowns and an interception at Pittsburgh in a 43-23 Week 9 loss. Flacco took a season-high four sacks in the second game against the Steelers.
Journeyman running back Justin Forsett has had a career season, and will be instrumental in taking the pressure off of Flacco. Forsett led all running backs with 5.4 yards per carry, ranks fifth in the league with 1,266 yards rushing and has eight touchdowns on the ground this season. Forsett may be up for a big game after he averaged 5.5 yards per carry in the two games against the Steelers.
On the other side of the ball, Baltimore needs to have its pass rush on point to extend its playoff run. The Ravens have sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times over two games. Linebacker Elvis Dumervil has three of those sacks, which are a part of his team-high 17 sacks this season.
The Ravens’ defensive line will also receive a boost. They’ll welcome back defensive end Haloti Ngata, returning from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Ngata has a sack and an interception over two games against Pittsburgh this season.
The total has gone under in the Ravens’ last four games.
Heated rivalries are always exciting. Make this game even more thrilling by creating a betting account and backing a side.
Betting on the Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the kings of the competitive AFC North. They clinched the division with a 27-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The win did come at a price, though, as lead running back Le’Veon Bell left in the third quarter with a hyperextended right knee.
Bell has been the Steelers’ main weapon on the ground with 1,341 yards on 282 carries. He is also the only current Steelers running back to have scored a touchdown with LeGarette Blount now in New England.
Despite Bell possibly missing the wild-card game or being limited due to his injury, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may be more than enough to lead Pittsburgh to victory. Roethlisberger finished the regular season with 4,952 yards passing (tied with Drew Brees for first in the NFL) with 32 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. He was especially dangerous at home against the Ravens in Week 9, passing for a season-high six touchdowns.
Roethlisberger may be able to explode for another big game in the wild-card round with wide receiver Antonio Brown on-point for the playoffs. Brown has 440 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the past four games (all Steelers wins).
Brown was at his best in the season finale against Cincinnati when he racked up 212 all-purpose yards which included a 71-yard punt return touchdown to open the scoring and a 63-yard score that iced the game for Pittsburgh.
What could hurt the Steelers in this game is their propensity to allow big gains from quarterbacks in the past four weeks. They have allowed an average 291.8 yards passing over the four games.
Despite allowing their opponents to rack up the yardage through the air, the Steelers also have some timely interceptions. Cornerback William Gay had a 52-yard pick-six against Atlanta in Week 15, while cornerback Brice McCain had two interceptions in the season finale on Sunday.
The sacks have also come plenty for Pittsburgh. The Steelers have nine sacks in their last two games led by linebacker Jason Worilds’ three sacks and defensive end Cameron Heyward’s 2.5. Turning up the pressure on Baltimore quarterback Flacco may be able to shut down the Ravens’ offense.
The Steelers are 4-1 ATS in their last five games against the Ravens.
Joe Flacco starts out hot to lead the Ravens to victory. Take Baltimore for the upset.[sc:NFL490Banner ]
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