Santa is giving us a great Christmas Day present in the form of the bi-annual clash between the (9-5) Pittsburgh Steelers and (8-6) Baltimore Ravens, and this time it’s the AFC North title on the line (4.30pm ET, Sunday on NFLN).
Currently the Steelers lead the division by just one game so for the Ravens to have a shot, they’ll need to take this victory at Heinz Field on Sunday. It will not be easy as Pittsburgh is playing some of its best football recently, winning five straight and looking impressive in all facets.
Taking a look at the spreads for this game from the best of the USA betting sites, the Steelers are favored by six points. With a view to our closing betting predictions and picks for this game at the end of this preview, at first sight that appears a pretty reasonable spread given how well Pittsburgh has played and how history favors them at home at Heinz Field.
In direct contrast to this is how Baltimore has played on the road this year. The Ravens have been winless away from M&T Bank Stadium since September 25th of this year. The road wins they do have on the season are against the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars, two teams who have a combined couple of wins between them in 28 games. That doesn’t exactly strike a vote of confidence in the Ravens’ ability to get the job done in Pittsburgh on Christmas Day.
The Ravens and Steelers continue to have one of the best rivalries, especially recently, in all of sports. Once again, both are fielding competitive teams and enjoying successful seasons. There’s no doubt these two will put on another classic fitting to the animosity shared amongst them.
The Last Time We Met
Six weeks ago, on November 6, the Steelers and Ravens played their first game of 2016, in Baltimore. It was the home team who got on the scoreboard early. Toward the end of the first quarter Joe Flacco (pictured) completed a 95-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace. It was the longest play from scrimmage in Ravens’ history and the second longest this year.
This was one of just 19 touchdown passes on the season from Flacco, four of which have been caught by Wallace, who leads the team with 64 receptions and 963 receiving yards. He is tied with Steve Smith for most touchdowns by a Ravens’ receiver as well.
A field goal from Justin Tucker as the clock expired left Baltimore up 10-0 at the half. To that point, the Ravens had been in complete control and it was their defense that was playing like the best in the division. An interception from Ben Roethlisberger led to a short Baltimore field and another field goal to put the Ravens up 13-0.
Pittsburgh would score twice on a pair of Roethlisberger touchdowns in the fourth but it was too little too late as Baltimore controlled the game and made their presence known on offense, defense and special teams. In fact, it was probably one of the most complete games the Ravens played all year.
Two takeaways from that NFL game however are that Pittsburgh’s running game was all but nonexistent, something that very likely won’t be the case on Sunday and the fact that this was Roethlisberger’s first game back from injury, which many believed he rushed to return to.
So, perhaps all that we can really glean from that one is that Baltimore has a really good defense, perhaps one of the best in the league, and that much certainly hasn’t changed.
Effectiveness of the Running Games
The Steelers boast one of the best backs in the league over the last few years in Le’veon Bell. Bell missed the first part of the season due to his suspension but since his return the young back has assumed his position as the second best rusher behind Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott.
Bell, despite missing the first three games, has padded his stats recently, recording at least 90 yards on the ground in each of his last five. It’s no coincidence that during this stretch the Steelers haven’t lost a game as Bell provides versatility to the offense which only makes Roethlisberger more dangerous and Pittsburgh’s attack more two-dimensional.
That’s something the Ravens would kill for as this year, without Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce or even Justin Forsett, Baltimore has one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL. Terrance West has really struggled and rookie Kenneth Dixon hasn’t done much in limited opportunity as well. The Ravens’ run game is downright anemic and has yet to record a strong performance this year.
Don’t expect that to change Sunday as Baltimore faces a Steelers front five that has allowed just 323 yards total over their last five games. That’s incredible run stopping by the dangerous duo of Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons. These two have been among the best linebackers at stopping the run during this streak and have made teams with much better running attacks than Baltimore really struggle.
Being that the Ravens are so one-dimensional, it will be interesting to see if they even attempt to move the ball on the ground on Sunday. History suggests that they won’t be able to win if they don’t, even if Flacco makes up for the lack of a run game by being really good through the air.
Our Preview’s Baltimore Ravens vs Pittsburgh Steelers Picks & Betting Predictions
As mentioned at the start of this preview, the Steelers enter this game as six point favorites on the sportsbooks’ spreads. Given their home success, recent five game winning streak (which has seen them 5-0 against the spread as well) and the fact that the Ravens don’t have much in the way of a run game, I like Pittsburgh to emerge victorious in this one and in full control of their AFC playoff destiny.
So my betting predictions and picks for this tasty Christmas Day NFL treat are:
- Bet on the Pittsburgh Steelers -6pts @ -102 best betting odds with 5Dimes Sportsbook. It is -105 with BetOnline and Bookmaker and -110 with Bovada, all for the same spread.
- As for the points to be scored in this matchup, the total is projected by the oddsmakers at around the 44pts mark. Both teams are known for their defense and how they continue, in the classic AFC smash mouth style, to play hard-nosed football games which are often low-scoring. So take the under 44.5pts @ -110 with Bovada. It is under 44pts for the same odds with 5Dimes and BetOnline, while Bookmaker go -115.