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Baltimore Ravens (10-6 SU, 8-8 ATS) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5 SU, 9-7 ATS)
NFL Football Wildcard Playoffs
Date and Time: Saturday January 3rd, 2015. 8:15PM EST
Where: Heinz Field Pittsburgh, P.A.
by Jay, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Ravens -3/Steelers +3
Over/Under Total: 44
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Two AFC North rivals will collide this Saturday in the opening round of the NFL playoffs when the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field. This Saturdays contest will mark the 3rd meeting of the season between the Ravens and the Steelers. In week 2, the Ravens embarrassed the Steelers on a big Thursday night football stage with an impressive defensive performance in a 26-6 win. Then in week 9 the Steelers got revenge in a 43-23 victory that was highlighted by 6 touchdowns from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Now both teams get one final shot to settle the score and keep their postseason hopes alive.
Despite winning their last 4 games of the season and being one of the hottest teams in the AFC, the Steelers will enter this Saturdays contest as mere 3 point favorites over the Ravens. At first glance, the line may seem fairly low. However, the Steelers will likely be without star running back LeVeon Bell. Bell suffered a hyperextended knee in last weeks win against Cincinnati and his status for this Saturdays game is doubtful. Bell leads the AFC in all-purpose yards and his absence will definitely hurt the Steelers offense which is a reason Pittsburgh is currently laying just 3 points. Additionally, the Ravens have played well down the stretch winning 4 of their final 6 games of the season. On top of that, Baltimore has competed well in nearly every game this season. The Ravens only loss by more than one score was their week 9 loss to Pittsburgh. Therefore who would be better to stop Pittsburghs 4 game winning streak than a familiar foe in John Harbaugh and company?
In order for Baltimore to pull off the victory, they are going to need a big game from the offense. I am not buying into the fact that the Steelers offense is going to just roll over and die without Bell. Remember Roethlisberger threw for 6 touchdowns against the Ravens in week 9 and he will likely throw the ball a lot this Saturday if Bell does sit out. Therefore, Baltimore is going to have to score points and have a good offensive performance to pull out the victory. Defense has carried the team in recent weeks as the offense has failed to score more than 20 points in their last 3 games. While I expect Baltimores defense to continue to play well, quarterback Joe Flacco has to get receivers Steve Smith and Torrey Smith involved in the passing game early and often this Saturday.
Defensively the Ravens have to limit the big plays which is something they failed to do in week 9. There may not be a way to completely stop wide receiver Antonio Brown, but limiting the amount of damage he and Roethlisberger can do may be possible. Baltimore must get pressure on Big Ben and force him to get rid of the ball quickly. When Roethlisberger stands in the pocket without pressure, he can pick defenses apart and that is when some of the other receiving threats like Martavis Bryant and TE Heath Miller come into the picture. Therefore keep an eye on the battle up front with Pittsburghs offensive front and Baltimores defensive line. The group that wins that battle will likely decide whether this is going to be a grinding defensive battle like the first meeting which favors Baltimore or if this game is going to be an offensively driven contest that favors the Steelers.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I believe the absence of LeVeon Bell will likely force Pittsburgh to throw the football more which will in effect increase the pace of the game and opportunities for both offenses. I believe the Steelers will still be solid offensively and will be able to keep pressure on the Ravens offense to keep pace. All factors which lead to an easy cover on the over 44. Good luck!