The Baltimore Ravens face off against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a primetime Sunday Night matchup, and this is easily the Ravens’ toughest and most important game this season. The Ravens are riding high on a dominant three game win streak, while the Steelers have won nine straight, but won three of their last four on last second field goals against inferior opponents. Here are my three predictions on this hard nosed, physical matchup.
Marlon Humphrey will be attacked early and often
With Jimmy Smith sadly tearing his Achilles last week in the win against the Detroit Lions, rookie Marlon Humphrey stepped up and eventually got the last laugh. Humphrey allowed over 100 yards to the Lions, but stepped up with a late game interception. Once Humphrey got in, Matt Stafford and the Lions attacked his side of the field over and over. I expect Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers to do the exact same thing.
Humphrey gets to cover arguably the NFL’s best receiver, Antonio Brown, in his first career start. Look for “Big Ben” to attack Humphrey early in the game to see if the rookie can handle covering Brown. With Juju Smith-Schuster suspended for this matchup for his clean chop block and taunt on Cincinatti Bengals Vontaze Burfict, the Steelers’ number two receiver is now Martavius Bryant, who has not been anywhere near effective as Smith-Schuster.
The Ravens will look to throw across the middle
With Steelers’ linebacker Ryan Shazier out for the season with his back injury, (send prayers out to him, he needs it), the Ravens need to throw across the middle. With Joe Flacco’s love of check downs, expect him to throw three to four yard passes to Danny Woodhead and Benjamin Watson, and will try to get Jeremy Maclin on a drag across the middle and Mike Wallace on slants.
The loss of Steelers’ corner Joe Haden will also have an impact on Pittsburgh’s pass defense. Maclin and Wallace will need to step up and gain separation early to prevent Flacco from getting sacked and/or throwing off his back foot.
This game will come down to Special Teams
Everyone knows that when the Ravens and Steelers play, it usually ends in a one possession game. This game is going to come down to whoever can win the special teams phase of the game. This is a matchup of two great punters in Sam Koch and Jordan Berry, and two great kickers in Justin Tucker and Chris Boswell. Heinz Field is known for being on of the toughest places to kick a field goal in the entire NFL, so field position will be everything.
As long as Tucker can continue to be automatic and as long as Koch can keep Antonio Brown ineffective on the return game, the Ravens will have a great chance in winning the game.
This will be the toughest matchup the Ravens will face all season and even though the Steelers have been struggling, they are going to play harder than ever. With emotions riding high from Shazier’s injury and having this be the NFL’s greatest rivalry, the Ravens will need to prove how great they can really be.
Yes, I know the Ravens play the Steelers tougher than any other opponent, but the defense absolutely needs to play the best they have played all season and “January Joe” Flacco needs to carry his success from last week. Limit the mistakes and the Ravens will be able to come out of Pittsburgh with a win.
Final Score Prediction: Ravens 24, Steelers 21. Justin Tucker hits a 47 yard field goal as time expires.