Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (PK, 47.5 o/u)
In week 9, Sunday Night Football features a battle between two AFC North teams with winning records. If you’re still confused about who’s playing, that’s understandable, as all four teams in the AFC North are over .500. Of course, you could always just look at the title to the article.
As the title suggests, the Baltimore Ravens (5-3, 2-2 road) will travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers (5-3, 3-1 home) in a pivotal divisional matchup.
Though both teams have looked great at times this year, both have also been inconsistent. Pittsburgh incomprehensibly dropped a home game to the Buccaneers in week 4 (27-24), which is Tampa’s only win on the year so far. However, last weekend, they brought the Colts’ five-game winning streak to a screeching halt with a dominant 51-34 win at Heinz field; QB Ben Roethlisberger had a career day, throwing for over 500 yards and six touchdowns. Coming off a performance like that, one would think that the Steelers would be favored at home in week 9. But the inconsistency in the Steelers’ game has been present all season, making it hard to predict which Pittsburgh team will show up on any given Sunday.
Baltimore has been a little more steady. They dropped their home opener to a Bengals team that was the talk of the league before A.J. Green went down; they have also lost on the road against the AFC South-leading Colts and again to the Bengals last week, this time in Cincinnati. While they did not look their sharpest in any of those games, none can be classified as a “bad loss” in the same way as Pittsburgh’s loss to Tampa. And, in their other five games this season, the Ravens have been positively dominant, going 5-0 with a 20.6 average margin of victory.
On paper, at least, this game will feature one of the league’s top offenses (Pittsburgh) against one of the league’s top defenses (Baltimore). Pittsburgh sits third in the league in total offense, averaging 418 yards per game, while Baltimore is second in scoring defense, surrendering just over 16 points per game. While Baltimore has been steady against the run all season, giving up a little over 90 yards on average, they have been shoddy against the pass; the Ravens have allowed 256 yards per game through the air, 22nd in the league. Their chances of improving that number on Sunday are not great, as Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown have built great chemistry and the Ravens will be missing their top corner, Jimmy Smith.
After last week’s loss to the A.J. Green-less Bengals dropped the Ravens to 2-2 in AFC North play, Baltimore can ill-afford another divisional loss. The same goes for the Steelers, though, who are just 1-2 in AFC North games. With the Bengals on top of the division at 4-2-1 and the Browns on the bottom at 4-3, things could scarcely be tighter. Though the loser on Sunday won’t be too far out of first, they may sit behind all of the other team’s in the division come week 10. No matter how mathematically close one is to first, no one wants to be chasing three other divisional teams entering the second half of the season.
With the game feeling like a must-win for both teams, expect each to bring its A-game. At the moment, the Steelers’ A-game appears to be the stronger of the two, and Big Ben should be able to exploit a weak Ravens secondary – made weaker by the absence of Smith – en route to a big home W (operative word being “should”).
(Photo credit: Keith Allison (originally posted to Flickr as 112606 232) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped from its original.)