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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens Prediction and Preview

Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger

It is commonplace for sportswriters to talk about history when previewing games. But in this case, does it matter?

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Yes, the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers play in perhaps the most bitter contemporary rivalry in the NFL, though with the injuries that have come out of recent Cincinnati-Pittsburgh games that may be up for debate.

The Ravens have defeated the Steelers in four of the previous five meetings, including a 23-20 overtime victory at Pittsburgh and last season's 30-17 Ravens playoff victory at Pittsburgh, the only time in history a pro sports franchise from Baltimore eliminated one from Pittsburgh in the postseason.

But right now, how does that help the Ravens?

The Steelers are surging, the Ravens regressing. The Steelers are 9-5 and in line for a playoff berth. Some pundits even theorize they could do great things once January rolls around.

The Ravens are limping home with a third-string quarterback, backup running back, and a 4-10 record.

The chances for a Baltimore victory rest with clichés.

"On any given Sunday."

"Four out of five."

"The Ravens are at home."

But more likely, the one that applies is "Wait 'til next year."

Pittsburgh at Baltimore

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)

TV: CBS

Spread: Steelers -10

Three Things to Watch

1. Will the Steelers throw deep?

Ben Roethlisberger was named to the Pro Bowl this week, but who noticed last week he didn't throw deep yet he still managed to throw for 380 yards?

The reason is because the Broncos' pass rush is the best in the league. Historically, the Ravens’ pass rush has been extraordinary (49 sacks last season), but injuries to Terrell Suggs and a regression from Elvis Dumervil (six sacks this season, 17 last year) have led to less of a pass rush this season (31 sacks).

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Yes, Roethlisberger made the Pro Bowl, but he also is just three interceptions off the league lead despite missing four games due to injury. His pick late against Denver nearly cost the Steelers the game, and there have been only two games this season he hasn't thrown an interception.

With the Ravens' pass rush diminished, why not take advantage of that instead of risk the turnovers that could cost the Steelers the game?

2. Strategy

After the Steelers' loss to the Ravens earlier this year, head coach Mike Tomlin was caught on camera mouthing the words "my bad" as he left the field.

He had elected to go for first downs twice in overtime and the Steelers failed to pick up either of them, which allowed Baltimore the field position to get a short field for the eventual 52-yard Justin Tucker field goal.

Tomlin has a reputation as being a master motivator but a poor strategist, though he has had his moments. Ironically, calling for a pass with 2:08 left against Denver was probably the best strategic choice as a run would have ticked off minimal time, but a pass completion would have secured the victory. The fault in that case was Roethlisberger's for trying to force a pass, not Tomlin.

But if the Ravens are to win, they will need to get a break and have historically benefitted from some of Tomlin's decisions. A short field in overtime? Returning a woozy Roethlisberger to the field instead of letting a hot Bruce Gradkowski complete his drive, then seeing Big Ben throw the game-clinching interception in the playoffs? How about standing on the field on Thanksgiving Day 2013?

3. Can the Ravens get an early lead, and can they hold it?

The Steelers have been employing a rotation of cornerbacks recently, which means they often play Antwon Blake in the first half and Brandon Boykin in the second.

Last week that meant Pittsburgh gave up 27 points in the first half, including a 61-yard touchdown pass to Emanuel Sanders that was all run and little air, but shut out Denver in the second.

Pittsburgh is saying they won't change a thing. This means that Blake, perhaps the NFL's most targeted cornerback, will continue to start.

If that is true, then it could be the chance for Baltimore to take an early lead. But if the Ravens get one, running back Javorius Allen will have to improve on what has been a disappointing rookie season replacing injured Justin Forsett. Allen was even pulled for Terrance West last week after his fumble directly led to Kansas City's Tyvon Branch's 73-yard return for a touchdown and a 14-7 Chiefs lead, but head coach John Harbaugh says Allen will continue to get playing time.

Not a bad fourth thing to watch – "Will the coaches keep their word regarding Blake and Allen's starting positions?"

Which leads to the fifth question – “Why are they starting in the first place?"

Final Analysis

Anything can happen in a rivalry (how's that for a cliché?) and this piece has considered how Baltimore could benefit from a turnover advantage.

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Except the Ravens are minus-15 in the turnover department this year. You think Ben Roethlisberger has thrown too many interceptions? Ravens quarterbacks have thrown multiple interceptions in five of their last six games, including Jimmy Clausen's two last week in a 34-14 loss to the Chiefs.

What do you really think the Ravens' chances are here?

Prediction: Steelers 26, Ravens 16

— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson began contributing to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2000. He has covered the Steelers, Pitt Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.