Baltimore Ravens (8-6 SU, 6-8 ATS) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5 SU, 9-5 ATS)
NFL Week 16
Date/Time: Sunday, December 25, 2016 at 4:30PM EST
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
TV: NFL Network
by Scott, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: BAL +5/PIT -5
Over/Under Total: 44
In a big AFC North matchup with playoff ramifications on the line, the Baltimore Ravens come into Heinz Field to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, Christmas Day. The Steelers could lock up the division with a win this week, but if Baltimore wins, they will be even with the Steelers heading into the final week of the season, holding the season-sweep over Pittsburgh. Both teams took care of business on Sunday. The Steelers overcame a stiff challenge from Cincinnati to emerge a 24-20 winner, their fifth win in a row. Baltimore was able to avoid a scare, stopping a late two-point conversion from the Eagles to win by a point, 27-26, to stay in the mix.
These AFC North rivals played once already this season, with their November 6 game in Baltimore, won by the Ravens, 21-14. Baltimore parlayed a 95-yard strike from Joe Flacco to Mike Wallace and a blocked punt returned for a score to a win, while the Steelers’ offense was ground to a halt, scoring two late TDs with the Ravens controlling the game throughout. By the same token, that was a Steelers team that was in the midst of a slump, suffering through a prolonged slide that nearly cost them the season. On the heels of five straight wins and with better play on both sides of the ball, this is a different Steelers team. They’re in winning form now, at home, and facing an urgent spot with the light at the end of the tunnel now in plain sight.
The Steelers really turned things around after being a slump that looked like it would completely derail a team that entered 2016 among the conference favorites. Five straight wins have righted the ship, but there’s still work to be done. With Cleveland as their final game, it really comes down to this game in many respects. If they lose this, they’ll have to bank on the Bengals beating the Ravens next week. After ten games, things looked bleak with a 4-6 record with 4 of the Steelers next 5 games coming on the road. But they won all those games and enter this spot with some wind in their sails.
This late-season version of the Steelers isn’t what the Steelers were expecting on the offensive side of the ball. The high-flying aerial circus-show never materialized this season, victimized by youth, injuries, suspensions, and a lot of inconsistency. Ben Roethlisberger is over 3500 yards with 26 touchdowns, but relies a ton on Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, with the support system just not delivering. They’ll get spot good play here and there, but what was supposed to be a robust supporting cast just never took off. Bell has been huge, with 1146 and 72 catches—definitely among the top offensive weapons in the league. But how far they go could end up depending on how well the supporting cast steps up.
Last season, the Steelers defense looked like one of the more improved units in the conference. The youth movement was taking hold, with enough veterans to make them a tough bunch. With 70 points scored on them during this 5-game winning streak, they have gotten it back together and look to keep it going this week and beyond. James Harrison and Ryan Shazier are dominating in the middle, with Stephon Tuitt (questionable) also getting after it. Mike Mitchell, Ross Cockrell, Artie Burns, and Sean Davis have been better in the secondary and are also making big plays.
It doesn’t get much more urgent than this for the Ravens. Win and they have a realistic path to a division title. Lose and they’ll need a bunch of stars to line up. And with the AFC West’s 2nd place team getting one wild card spot, that leaves a gaggle of teams to fight it out for the last spot. In other words, the only realistic path to the postseason for Baltimore is to win the division and win this game. It’s been an up-and-down season for the Ravens, much like their opponents the Steelers. The season began with promise with a 3-0 record. Four straight losses followed and everyone jumped ship on the Ravens. With five wins in their last 7 games, they have fought hard to get back to this spot.
The Ravens offense has been a sticking point this season, sometimes a subdued group. The run-game hasn’t been very good, though Terrrance West and Kenneth Dixon can be productive in the right spots. Flacco has thrown for 3788 yards with 19 touchdowns and 13 picks, which is a little on the high side. This is where his veteran leadership is supposed to pay off. The former Super Bowl-winning quarterback knows what it’s like to thrive in late-season and the Ravens could really use it now. Flacco has gotten a boost this season by Mike Wallace, who is near 1000 yards. Steve Smith, Sr. is still doing his thing, with Kamar Aiken, Dennis Pitta, and Breshad Perriman adding aerial depth.
Baltimore’s defense has been a key in getting them to this point. They’ve been extended in their last two games against the Patriots and Eagles. But they are also a group that can tighten up at the right moment and make key plays and big stops. It was disconcerting to see the Ravens allow a late Philly TD, but when the Eagles went for the win on a two-pointer, the Ravens were able to register the big stop. In the front-seven, they are getting good play from Timmy Jernigan, with Terrell Suggs, CJ Mosley, and Zachary Orr creating a menacing identity in the middle. S Eric Weddle is thriving in his first season with the Ravens and has four picks. Along with Shareece Wright, Lardarius Webb, and Tavon Young, this is a secondary that can make things happen.
The Steelers are in far-better shape than when the first game between these teams took place. And their goal is very spelled-out, as they are at home in a position to win the division with a win over their rivals the Ravens. But both teams overcame a lot to get here, not just the Steelers. In this particular matchup with a lot on the line for both teams, most of the possible conclusions suggest a close contest where having points will be a benefit. I’m taking the Ravens and the points.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Baltimore Ravens plus 5 points.
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