One winning streak will come to an end when the Steelers host the Ravens in primetime on Sunday night. The 10-2 Steelers have won seven straight games while Baltimore has earned three consecutive victories.
Despite their record, the Steelers have not been particularly impressive lately, winning three of their last four by a field goal against subpar competition. Conversely, Baltimore is fresh off their most complete victory of the season in Week 13.
These AFC North division rivals have a rich history of tough contests and postseason heroics. Another hard hitting affair should be on tap. Hopefully the officiating crew will let the teams play football the way it was intended.
Each team is strong in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Pittsburgh has a versatile offense that can hurt defenses with a variety of weapons. Baltimore’s attacking defense is among the top ten in sacks and leads the league in interceptions. Expect the Ravens to deploy their playmaking dime package against the Steelers three wide sets. Their offense will mix in some deep shots, but primarily look to establish the run with physicality and attack the middle of the field against a shorthanded Steelers defense.
Five key matchups:
WR Mike Wallace vs CB Artie Burns
With Jeremy Maclin and Breshad Perriman slumping, the former Steelers receiver has undoubtedly become the Ravens best downfield threat. Wallace eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark for just the second time this season last week against Detroit and is averaging almost 16 yards per reception since the bye week. Pittsburgh will counter with Burns, a talented corner who excels at defending deep passes. Last season, he secured an interception against the Ravens.
Wallace went for 6-55-1 in Week 4 after taking a slant 95 yards to the house against the Steelers last season. The Ravens will need another big game from Wallace to keep pace in this game.
TE Ben Watson vs S Sean Davis
Playmaking inside linebacker Ryan Shazier will not be available due to an unfortunate back injury. His absence will force Pittsburgh to use their safeties for intermediate coverage. Davis, in his second year out of Maryland, is proving to be a quality safety. He has 63 tackles, six pass deflections, an interception and a forced fumble in 12 games. And Pittsburgh has been rather stingy against tight ends this year.
Watson is quietly having a solid year for Baltimore. He has 45 catches and three touchdowns, including a 1-yard score last Sunday. While not a big play threat, third down and red zone production from the aging tight end will be crucial.
OLB Terrell Suggs vs RT Chris Hubbard
Ravens team leader Suggs is enjoying a terrific season. He has recorded six sacks along with a pair of forced fumbles over the last four games. Although the Steelers capable blockers prevented him from making an impact in Week 4, he relishes the chance to play the team’s longtime rival. Including the playoffs, Suggs has posted 19.5 sacks and three interceptions against Pittsburgh through 29 career games.
Hubbard has started eight games this season, including each of the last two for the injured and now suspended Marcus Gilbert at right tackle. He has emerged as a dependable pass blocker, helping the Steelers surrender the fourth least sacks in the NFL this season. Still, Pittsburgh’s passing offense is too dangerous to be conservative against. The Ravens will surely bring pressure with blitzes off the edge in an attempt to put some hits on big Ben Roethlisberger.
LB C.J. Mosley vs RB Le’Veon Bell
The patient runner gashed the Ravens for 144 rushing yards and two scores in Week 4, his highest total of the season. Fortunately the Ravens run defense has improved tremendously since defensive tackle Brandon Williams returned to anchor their front. Baltimore has allowed an average of just 67 rushing yards over their last five games at a clip of 2.9 yards per carry.
It is unlikely that Bell will find much running room, but he can still be an integral part of the offense catching passes out of the backfield. Mosley did not play well last weekend and has had issues both in man coverage and tackling downfield this season. The Ravens need their defensive centerpiece to play up to his All-Pro potential this week.
CB Marlon Humphrey vs WR Antonio Brown
Brown has been the most productive receiver in the NFL during the last five seasons. After posting 101-yards and a score on Monday night, he has accumulated 1,296 yards and nine touchdowns so far this season. The Ravens, however, have held the three time All-Pro in check for the most part. Baltimore’s secondary limited Brown to four catches for 34 yards in Week 4, his worst output since 2015.
Nonetheless, Baltimore will be without shutdown cornerback Jimmy Smith for the first time this season. Pittsburgh will surely attempt to isolate their top playmaker on the rookie cornerback. Marlon Humphrey has played well in spurts this season, but also displayed a tendency to give up big plays downfield last week. Fortunately, most of Brown’s receptions are due to his crisp route running and superb hands, not his ability to snatch jump balls downfield. Humphrey’s elite athleticism should give him a fighting chance in coverage on Brown.
Heinz Field often brings out Joe Flacco’s best. John Harbaugh frequently outfoxes Mike Tomlin. And the Steelers will be playing on short rest after an extremely physical game on Monday night. Pittsburgh is the more talented team on paper and will be defending their home field, but the Ravens have several factors working in their favor.
With another vintage performance from Suggs, a healthy dose of tailback Alex Collins and some special teams magic, Baltimore pulls out a close game at the end. 23-22 Ravens