When the Baltimore Ravens travel to Heinz Field to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, they will bring with them their undefeated 3-0 record in the AFC North (8.20pm ET, Sunday).
The Steelers are also undefeated at 1-0 in the AFC North and with a win have a chance to tie Baltimore at the top of the divisional standings.
As always when these two teams meet, physicality will be featured front and center. Especially, considering that the winner will have a great shot at finishing as the best team in the AFC North.
Same Teams, Different Feeling
Although this game will still have the feel to it of a classic Steelers and Ravens game, some of the cast of characters that fans are used to, will unfortunately not be taking the field.
After suffering a devastating knee injury that many believed may be the end to his career, 13x Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis, found himself sitting on the sidelines for all but the first six games of the 2012 season. With Lewis out, the Ravens have not been the same team. Although their record is 7-2 and second best in all of the AFC, a lot of their identity is lost without Lewis taking snaps and rushing the quarterback.
With quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice leading the offense to the 13th best passing game and 19th best running game, the most notable difference from the Ravens with Lewis and the Ravens without Lewis has been is evident in their defense against the run.
In 2011, Lewis played in twelve games, racking up 95 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception. In addition, he helped the Ravens establish themselves as the 3rd best defense in allowing just 16.6 points per game on average. In defending the run, the Ravens allowed just 1482 yards which was good enough for second best in the NFL. In allowing just 3.5 yards per attempt, the Ravens finished second in this category as well.
This year, the Ravens, instead of being ranked as one of the best teams in the league when it comes to defense, they are actually one of the worst. In both run and passing defenses, the Ravens are the 26th worst team in the NFL. They have allowed 1,188 yards on the ground already this year in just nine games with their average yards per carry at 3.9. They have also allowed nine rushing touchdowns on the year.
The Ravens may have lost the quarterback of their defense with Lewis out, but the Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger, have lost their actual quarterback and one of their most important team leaders.
With numbers that support a possible MVP campaign, Roethlisberger has led the Steelers back from a 2-3 start to a much more competitive 6-3 mark. He helped Pittsburgh become winners of their last four in a row and has put them right back into the playoff conversation.
The problem however is that in the Steelers last game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Roethlisberger went down with a shoulder injury. It was later revealed after the game, that he too had suffered a dislocated rib, in short meaning that there is no timetable for his return.
Roethlisberger sits on the bench now with a 100 passer rating, which is sixth best in the NFL, 17 touchdowns, which is eighth best in the league and a 66.1 completion percentage which is seventh best. He also has 2,287 yards on the season.
The replacement for Big Ben is Byron Leftwich, who last started a game in 2009 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He came in for Roethlisberger late in the Kansas City game and although he didn’t play particularly well, did enough for the Steelers to get the win in overtime.
Against the Ravens however, Leftwich is going to have to play better than average. The best news for the Steelers though is that with all of their injuries, they are finally getting top tier running back Rashard Mendenhall back. With Leftwich in at quarterback, expect the Steelers to run and run often. And since the Ravens have just the 26th ranked rushing defense, it looks good for Pittsburgh to play the game they have every intention of playing with Roethlisberger out.
Add to this list no (SS) Troy Palomalu or (WR) Antonio Brown for the Steelers and no (DT) Ladarius Webb or (CB) Jimmy Smith for the Ravens, and you have two teams that are pretty banged up. The Ravens have a bit of an advantage as on offense, they are much the same team they were at the start of the year. Joe Flacco is one of the only NFL quarterbacks who hasn’t missed time this year and Ray Rice (RB) and Anquan Boldin (WR) have been putting together great years as well. That said, the Steelers even as banged up as they are, still have the league’s top notch passing defense and the league’s fifth best rushing defense.
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Betting Picks Verdict
Ultimately, with all of these injuries, this game comes down to two very important things:
- How will Byron Leftwich perform against the Ravens’ defense, specifically when throwing down the field to wide receiver Mike Wallace, who likely will be covered by Pro-Bowl safety Ed Reed?
- Will the Ravens be able to run against the fifth ranked Steelers defense? If so, will this open up Joe Flacco’s ability to throw the ball downfield and utilize his big play maker wide receivers?
Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders are still threats down the field and if Baltimore can’t collapse the pocket and take away Leftwich’s comfort zone, they could be prone to give up some touchdowns.
This is the same formula that goes for the Pittsburgh defense. They will have to stop Flacco and Rice to get the win.
- The score will be close, but bet on Baltimore -3.5pts to win @ +100 (evens) with BetOnline Sportsbook. It is -105 with Bovada.
- Take the points total to fall under the line of 40 points @ -105 with Bovada. It is -110 with BetOnline.
- NOTE to Non-Americans: Place this bet with Bet365.