The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens will play for the second time in three postseasons. Known for their defensive intensity, the Steelers and Ravens will play for the rights to the AFC championship.
The early spread on this game is Steelers (-3) Here are some of the key aspects of the game and what to watch out for when betting. Stats from NFL.com and ESPN. All lines from Cooper’s Picks.
The Ravens didn’t sustain many significant injuries during Wildcard weekend. They do have four players who missed the game and could miss next week. These players include Tom Zbikowski and Tavares Gooden. Look out for Ed Reed’s situation with his brother and if that has any effect on this match-up.
As of 1/9, the Steelers are still recovering from injuries. The offensive and defensive lines are getting healthier and could be even better if Aaron Smith returns from his torn triceps muscle. Steve McLendon is also trying to return
#2: Home Field Advantage
Both teams are capable of winning road games and protecting their house. However, the Steelers lost three home games this season compared to one road defeat. The Ravens were 5-3 on the road, but they were able to upset the Steelers in Heinz Field when Roethlisberger was unavailable.
This will be the rubber match of one of the NFL’s most intense rivalries. Both games went down to the wire as each opponent stole one from each other’s house. The Ravens pulled off a 17-14 upset victory during Week 4 while Troy Polamalu strip-sacked Joe Flacco in a later 13-10 victory.
The Steelers have had an extra week of rest and preparation. However, these are divisional rivals, so they’ll already have a great deal of familiarity. I don’t consider the bye week a decisive factor in this match-up. The Ravens will be playing amidst six days of rest as the game is on Saturday.
#5: Joe Flacco vs. Ben Roethlisberger
Joe Flacco is 2-5 against the Steelers in his career. Both those victories came during Ben Roethlisberger’s absence. Therefore, Flacco is 0-5 against Roethlisberger in his career, although he has been close on numerous occasions.
Billy Cundiff will represent the Ravens in the Pro Bowl. Shaun Suisham has been nearly perfect after replacing Jeff Reed, but he has had bouts of inconsistency that have plagued him throughout his career. Heinz Field can be a difficult place to kick, and the game could come down to a field goal.
#7: Divisional Rivalry
The Ravens and Steelers maintain one of the AFC’s most prestigious rivalries. Therefore, both teams have great familiarity with one another and are often unpredictable.
#8: Steelers Rushing Defense
The Steelers surrendered 63 yards rushing per game during the regular season. This was nearly 28 less than anyone else, as many teams abandon the running game immediately when facing the Steelers. Joe Flacco will have to continue his solid play, where he has thrown 26TDs and 5INTs since Week 3.
Both teams play aggressively, but the Steelers found themselves attacked by the referees. The Steelers had over 200 more penalty yards, as the Ravens were 6th best in the NFL.
#10: Offensive Lines
Both offensive lines have surrendered 40+ sacks on the season, putting each team amongst the NFL’s worst in pass protection. However, the Steelers could surprise some folks as they continue to get healthier on the OL.
I believe the winner of this match-up will be the AFC Super Bowl representative. Both of these teams have solid defenses blended with a strong quarterback and good coaching staffs. This contest shouldn’t be as lopsided as the 2009 AFC championship game that featured a rookie Joe Flacco.
I don’t see the Ravens stealing two victories in Heinz Field in the same season. The Steelers are getting healthier, they have the veteran QB, they have a better overall defense, and I like Mike Wallace for one big play. I’m about 55/45 on the Steelers straight-up, but this game could fall right on 3. Consider middling if you can find (Steelers -2.5) and Ravens (+3.5) from two different shops. If you can’t, you could be safer taking the points because either team could realistically win this.
As a bonus, the over/under is 36. The previous match-ups went 31 and 23. 20-17 is the highest total I would see for this match-up (the average total is 37), so high appears pretty risky between these teams.
Against the Spread: – Baltimore Ravens (+3)
Straight: – Pittsburgh Steelers
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Cooper’s Picks, January 9, 2011
Stats NFL.com, January 9, 2011
Injury Reports, Covers.com. January 9, 2011