The Baltimore Ravens have not lost at home since December 5, 2010, almost two years ago. The 13-10 victors in that game were the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens opponent this Sunday. Since then, Baltimore has not lost at home in 15 straight games, the NFL's current longest such streak.
The last time these two teams fced off at M&T Bank Stadium was opening day in 2011, when most Steelers fans hope to forget the 35-7 beatdown the Ravens put on them. In the meantime, Baltimore has won the last two games, both at Heinz Field, leading up to this game. For those of you keeping score, that's three in a row, including the last three on the road in Pittsburgh.
Steelers fans will argue that a couple of those losses were without their star quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, including the 13-10 loss two weeks ago. The chance of Big Ben making his return from his shoulder and rib injuries is around 50-50, so the possibility of more excuses remains up in the air.
The Steelers would be smart to rest Roethlisberger one more game before returning him to action for the rest of the season. If the Steelers lose to the Ravens Sunday, they still could sweep their remaining four games on their schedule and make the post season as a Wild Card, with probably a more healthy QB. Risk further injury against a Baltimore defense that beats up Ben pretty bad even when he's completely healthy and their season, much less his career could be in jeopardy.
My view is that the Ravens will win this game with or without Roethlisberger, so why take the risk and besides, it gives Steelers fans just one more excuse why they are still a better team because they lost with their second or third string quarterbacks playing against the Ravens. Many Ravens fans want to see the Steelers at full strength so there are no excuses when we beat them, but there will always be excuses from Steelers fans.
To me, a win is a win and in actuality, the Ravens need this game even more than the Steelers. As mentioned earlier, Pittsburgh's chance to claim the AFC North title are basically slim and none. They can make the Wild Card and have always been a tough team in the post season, be it at home or on the road. Their game against the Cincinnati Bengals is actually more important to their playoff hopes than this Ravens game.
On the other hand, a Ravens win clinches a playoff spot and combined with a Bengals loss gives the Ravens a second straight AFC North title.
Pittsburgh still have one of the top defenses in the league, stats-wise, but the Ravens defense is #1 in the league inside the Red Zone and their points-allowed among the best in football over the last month. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's offense has become anemic, while the Ravens offense becomes unleashed at home, averaging close to double what it produces on the road.
That combination as well as the uncertainly of Roethlisberger, will equal a Ravens win to extend their win streak both at home and over the black & yellow. The only positive thing that I can offer to Steelers fans is that perhaps the game will be closer if Big Ben plays than if he doesn't. Either way, the teams are headed in opposite directions, with the Ravens convincingly sweeping the season series for the second year in a row.
NOTE: Stop back tomorrow to post your prediction in Baltimore Beatdown's 'Predict The Score Contest.'