The Ravens will put their 14-game home winning streak and 12-game AFC North winning streak on the line on Sunday, but there is something more important than extending those streaks.
A win by the Ravens, paired with a Cincinnati Bengals loss, will give the Ravens a second consecutive AFC North championship.
These two teams played two weeks ago in Pittsburgh, when the Ravens pulled out an ugly, hard-fought 13-10 win to assume control of the division.
The main difference in this match-up is that Charlie Batch will be starting at quarterback instead of Byron Leftwich. Leftwich played admirably in that game as he was making his first start since Week 3 of 2009, but the Ravens punished him all game and he has been out since.
Batch, meanwhile, looked as rusty as on old metal shed, as the Steelers’ offense turned the ball over an eye-popping eight times. Three of those turnovers came via Batch interceptions, as Batch also habitually under-threw deeper passes. The 37-year-old doesn’t have the arm strength to get the ball deep down field, so that will be something the Ravens’ defense has to key on.
There was s statement made by head coach Mike Tomlin this week, as he named Jonathan Dwyer the starting running back and demoted receiver Mike Wallace to co-starter with Emmanuel Sanders opposite Antonio Brown. Brown will be returning after a three–week hiatus due to an ankle injury.
The Ravens, meanwhile, have to be feeling pretty good about their current situation. Coming off a miraculous overtime victory over the hapless San Diego Chargers, the Ravens now have a chance to clinch the division, or at least seriously damage their archrival’s playoff chances.
More good news for the Ravens is they will be returning home after two sketchy wins on the road against the Steelers and Chargers. The Ravens, especially the offense, have played much better at home, as the 14-game home-winning streak would indicate.
There was nothing to instill confidence in the previous two games, but in the NFL a win is a win, as the Ravens have distanced themselves from the Steelers, while keeping the hot Bengals at bay.
The Steelers still boast the top defense in the league in regards to yards per game and passing yards per game; safety Troy Polamalu will also return since injuring his calf all the way back in Week 2, so his presence will help contain the Ravens’ potent home field offense.
Polamalu will be back, but linebacker LaMarr Woodley will miss the game, so it will be another key injury for the Steelers to deal with.
The Steelers’ defense did a yeoman’s job last week containing the Cleveland Browns’ offense, as they were on the field often with their offense turning the ball over eight times. If Batch and the offense struggle, the Ravens’ offense may be too tough to contain if they are constantly getting the football.
Torrey Smith had a huge part in the comeback last week, as his 144 yards were the most this season by any Ravens’ pass catcher. Ray Rice had a solid day overall, as he ran for 97 yards against the Chargers’ third-ranked rush defense, and also had the miracle fourth-and-29 catch-and-run. Dennis Pitta also had a big touchdown, so it was a positive to see multiple facets of the offense coming around.
With the Ravens’ smelling blood in the water, they have a dream scenario. Clinch the division over your weakened rival, while all but destroying their playoff chances. Situations like this don’t come along often, so the Ravens must come out guns blazing and bury the Batch-led Steelers early on.
With that being said, it is unlikely the Steelers will just roll over and die, considering their dire straits. As long as they don’t turn the ball over eight times again, they should put up a fight, at least for awhile.
However, with so much on the line for the Ravens, they will not let this opportunity go by the wayside: my prediction is that they will beat the Steelers 23-13 and keep their impressive streaks alive.