AFC Game Of The Week
Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5)
Ravens: It’s been an up and down year for the Baltimore Ravens. They got off to that 3-0 start, then lost four in a row, got back to winning and then a few losses in between. However, they are in much better shape this year compared to last season around this time because they were decimated by so many injuries and key guys were out. Now, everyone is healthy and ready to make a run at the playoffs. Since John Harbaugh became the head coach in 2008, the Baltimore Ravens have made the playoffs in all but two seasons and at 8-6, they can get back there once again. The defense has been a specialty for them and this year, they’ve been one of the very best all year long. They stop the run, they get pressure on the quarterback and collapse the pocket and the secondary is much improved. It’s their offense that has been the problem and they’ve been inconsistent all year long and it starts with Joe Flacco. When he plays well and has control of the offense along with taking care of the ball, good things will happen. This team will go as far as he takes them and we’ve seen what he can do when he’s playing well. This is a big game for them and they’ll look to take the season series from the Pittsburgh Steelers for the second season in a row.
Steelers: At one point, they were considered to be the favorite to represent the AFC in Houston in Super Bowl 51. They were 4-1 at one point and were simply rolling and Le’Veon Bell came back. Then, Ben Roethlisberger goes down with a knee injury and misses a few games. The Steelers then lose four games in a row and sit at 4-5. Now, they’re close to making the playoffs once again. During this five-game winning streak, Ben has been 100 percent healthy, Antonio Brown has been on a tear as we expect, Ladarius Green is healthy and he’s been big for them because he brings a much different look to the tight end position. For many years, Ben always had a possession tight end that he could dump the ball off too over the middle and Heath Miller was his security blanket. With Green, you have a guy that you can use in a variety of ways whether that be wide as a receiver, in the slot and as a traditional tight end. The biggest thing I’ve taken away from the Steelers has been the efforts of Le’Veon and coming into the season, I’ve called him the x-factor for these guys. He’s what I call a stat sheet stuffer on the football field because he can get you over 125 yards rushing and he can get you over 100 yards receiving as well and he’s healthy, that’s the most important thing. On Sunday, they’ll get a shot at a rival for the division title.
Ravens Player To Watch: Mike Wallace– There have been times when Joe Flacco has forced the football to Steve Smith, even when he’s being double and sometimes tripled covered down the football field. Mike Wallace has made some nice catches when the ball has been thrown to him and I’d find ways to get him involved a little bit more. He’s a speedster that can turn what looks to be a short gain and can make it a big play.
Steelers Player To Watch: Ladarius Green– When the Steelers signed him, I thought this was a great move because it gave Ben another weapon to throw the football too and he could be the guy to fill that void Martavis Bryant left after being suspended. He’s finally been on the field and has been Ben’s third weapon behind Antonio and Le’Veon. I expect Ben to keep getting him the ball as much as possible.
Prediction: We’re in for a nice gift on Christmas Day this Sunday. A rivalry game with a division title on the line. By now, we all know the history behind these two. There’s no love between these two and it’s always a hostile type of football game. When these two last met, I remember saying that Ben had rushed back too soon after his knee injury. That was then, eight weeks later, he’s healthy and clicking. For Baltimore, their secondary needs to play well early or it can be a very long day for them. I’m taking the Steelers in this one. Steelers 27 Ravens 21.