Skip to main content
Publish date:

Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Preview and Prediction

Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger

The bitter AFC North rivalry between the Steelers and Ravens will be renewed on Christmas night in Pittsburgh. And as usual between these two teams, the stakes are high. The Steelers hold a one-game lead in the battle to win the AFC North and can clinch the division title with a victory over the Ravens. Baltimore needs a win to keep its division title hopes alive. However, even with a loss, head coach John Harbaugh’s team is still in the mix to claim a wild card spot. 

Image placeholder title

In the first meeting between these two teams, Baltimore won 21-14 on the strength of a couple of timely plays. Receiver Mike Wallace scored on a 95-yard pass in the first quarter, the Ravens converted an interception into three points and later returned a blocked punt for a score. While the final result was only a seven-point win for Baltimore, the margin certainly felt bigger thanks to a stagnant Pittsburgh offense. The Steelers didn’t score until the fourth quarter and recorded 205 of their 277 total yards over the final three drives. A big reason for the offensive struggles in that game was Baltimore’s defense, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also returned to the lineup after missing a game due to a knee injury. Roethlisberger was clearly rusty (23 of 45), and the ground game struggled to generate anything positive (36 yards on 18 carries).

However, since the last meeting, Pittsburgh has emerged as one of the hottest teams in the league. After the Steelers lost to the Ravens, they dropped a last-minute game against Dallas (35-30) but have won five in a row. On the other sideline, Baltimore has won three out of its last four. The Ravens dropped a 30-23 matchup at New England on Monday night two weeks ago but hammered Miami (38-6) and defeated Philadelphia by one (27-26) in that stretch.

Baltimore has won six out of the last seven meetings against Pittsburgh. The last victory by the Steelers in this series came on Nov. 2, 2014 (43-23). However, that 20-point win by Pittsburgh is an outlier in this rivalry. The last three meetings have been decided by seven points or less. Additionally, only four out of the last 17 were decided by more than a touchdown.

Baltimore at Pittsburgh

Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 25 at 4:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NFL Network

Spread: Steelers -5.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Baltimore’s Ground Game Against Pittsburgh’s Front Seven

Despite losing standout end Cam Heyward due to a torn pectoral in the loss to Dallas, Pittsburgh’s rush defense has held five straight opponents to less than 100 rushing yards. However, the Steelers' line will face another obstacle this week, as starting end Stephon Tuitt is questionable due to a knee injury suffered against Cincinnati. Depth and overall bodies up front are a huge problem for the Steelers if Tuitt is sidelined or limited. Ricardo Mathews, L.T. Walton, Daniel McCullers and Javon Hargrave are the top four linemen on the roster outside of Tuitt, but linebackers James Harrison or Bud Dupree could slide to end to contribute a handful of snaps.

Recommended Articles

With or without Tuitt in the lineup, Baltimore’s offensive line and ground attack is going to challenge the stingy Pittsburgh front. The Ravens only rushed for 50 yards in the first matchup between these two teams but posted 151 against the Eagles last week and their line seems to be gaining momentum with the emergence of left tackle Ronnie Stanley. The rookie struggled in the first matchup and will be tested once again versus Harrison, Dupree and fellow linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier.

Terrance West (729 rushing yards) is the lead back for Baltimore, but rookie Kenneth Dixon (281 yards) has recorded more carries (20 to 15) over the last two weeks. If Tuitt plays, how healthy and effective will he be? And if Tuitt doesn’t play, can the Steelers replicate the success this unit had last week with Hargreaves, McCullers, Walton and Mathews up front?

2. Baltimore’s Defense Against Le’Veon Bell

Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell is making a strong late-season push for MVP honors. The fourth-year running back missed the first three games of the season due to a suspension and recorded only one 100-yard performance in his first six contests. However, since the loss to Dallas, Bell has averaged 142.6 rushing yards over Pittsburgh’s last five games, including 236 in a 27-20 win at Buffalo and 118 in a 24-24 victory over the Giants.

As we mentioned above, Baltimore’s defense completely contained Bell in the first matchup, as he managed only 32 rushing yards on 14 attempts and caught six passes for 38 yards. Additionally, the Ravens have kept Bell relatively in check during his career. Over six matchups, Bell is only averaging 67.7 rushing yards in games against Baltimore.

Finding running room on Christmas Day won’t be easy for Bell and Pittsburgh’s standout line. Baltimore ranks second in the NFL against the run and limits opponents to just 3.5 yards per carry. The battle in the trenches between the physical Ravens’ front seven and Pittsburgh’s standout line will be a must-see matchup and play a key role in whether or not Bell can get on track.

3. The Quarterbacks

For all of the focus on Baltimore’s defense or Bell, the outcome of this game is still going to depend on the two quarterbacks. Baltimore’s Joe Flacco hasn’t shown any side effects from a season-ending knee injury in 2015, completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 3,788 yards and 19 scores. Flacco threw for 241 yards against the Steelers in the first matchup but was largely quiet outside of the 95-yard connection with Mike Wallace. Flacco is 9-7 in his 16 matchups against Pittsburgh and faces a secondary that has showed steady improvement throughout the 2016 campaign. Rookies Artie Burns (cornerback) and Sean Davis (safety) have emerged as key contributors, while Ross Cockrell also has developed into a solid coverman for head coach Mike Tomlin. The Steelers are familiar with Wallace’s speed on the outside, but the Ravens will test the middle of the field too with Steve Smith (60 catches) and tight end Dennis Pitta (67).

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was clearly not 100 percent in the first meeting between these two teams. However, the 34-year-old signal-caller has knocked the rust off in recent weeks and was instrumental in last week’s 24-20 win at Cincinnati (21 of 36 for 286 yards). Roethlisberger has been better at home than on the road this year, but he could be down a few targets on Sunday night. Tight end Ladarius Green is in the concussion protocol, and receiver Sammie Coates is dealing with a hamstring injury. It’s no secret the Ravens will look to contain receiver Antonio Brown, but that task could be tougher without cornerback Jimmy Smith (ankle injury). Assuming Baltimore devotes extra attention to Brown, which receiver will step up to help Roethlisberger? Is it Eli Rogers or tight end Jesse James?

Final Analysis

Considering the playoff implications and the rivalry aspect, this won’t be a friendly atmosphere on Sunday night. Pittsburgh’s injuries on the defensive line are a problem against a big and physical Baltimore offensive line. However, the Steelers' defense has played better in the second half of the season, and the offense has been a different unit at home. With Ladarius Green likely sidelined, Ben Roethlisberger needs a big effort from his secondary options – Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton and Jesse James – to prevent the Ravens from focusing too much on Antonio Brown. Even though Pittsburgh’s injuries cast doubt on both sides of the ball, Roethlisberger and Le'Vevon Bell carry the offense to a couple of key drives in the second half, while the defense prevents the Ravens from landing any big plays this time around. Another close game should be expected, but the Steelers clinch the division with a win over the Ravens.

NFL Power Rankings: Steelers

Prediction: Pittsburgh 24, Baltimore 20