These divisional opponents have a history of playing close games. In the 6 years prior to this campaign, these divisional opponents faced each other 12 times in the regular season.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (-3) 8:15 ET NBC
These divisional opponents have a history of playing close games. In the 6 years prior to this campaign, these divisional opponents faced each other 12 times in the regular season. No game was decided by more than 4 points! It does not get any closer than that. This year, the script was flipped. Pittsburgh went to Baltimore on September 14th in Week No. 2. The Steelers were badly mauled by Baltimore, losing 26-6. In that contest, Baltimore outrushed the Steelers 157-99 and profited from a +3 net TO margin. Thus, the final score was no surprise. The Steelers returned the favor on November 22nd, playing their 3rd consecutive home game, off high-scoring wins vs. Houston and Indy, Pittsburgh completed the home stand trifecta with a 43-23 revenge victory over their hated division rivals. Yet, the stats belied that final score with Pittsburgh winning the yardage by only 376-332. Now, we have a handicapper’s conundrum of whether to play Baltimore revenge or stick with the home field script. In this case, I will opt for the Pittsburgh Steelers at home as my NFL pick.
Last week, Baltimore needed a San Diego loss and victory of their own to capture this Wild Card spot. The games were played in the same timeframe. San Diego obliged, losing 19-7 at KC (due to a -3 net TO margin). That put the pressure clearly on Baltimore. Trailing in the 4th quarter, Baltimore responded with a pair of late scores for a 20-10 victory, based on a 419-259 yardage margin. QB Flacco has been outstanding in the post-season for the Ravens. He has led Baltimore to a 9-4 SU ATS playoff record, including victories in all 5 of the Raven’s first game in the playoffs. Yet, there are major concerns for Baltimore in this contest. That earlier loss at Pittsburgh was a microcosm of Baltimore’s issues on the division road and against winning teams. In fact, the Ravens enter at 1-6 ATS against divisional opponents. In addition, the Ravens were just 1-6 ATS vs. greater than .500 teams this year. The rush defense has been solid, allowing just 88/3.6 overland. But, that secondary has been burned on numerous occasions this year. It is clearly the weak link of the Baltimore team.
Enter Pittsburgh behind the strong right arm of QB Ben Roethlisberger. Along with WR Brown and a solid group of young receivers, the Steelers have completed 67% of their passes for a playoff best 7.9 offensive yards per attempt. RB Bell emerged as a bona fide star in NFL action this year. But, he tweaked his knee in the 3rd quarter of last week’s 27-17 Steeler victory over the Bengals. His status for this game remains a question. His availability would certainly help to balance a Steeler offense and open up the passing lanes for Big Ben. Nonetheless, the Steelers enter with great momentum. That 27-17 victory vs. the Bengals was their 4th straight win and cover. It gives the Steelers solid momentum as they are playing their best football of the year. Such has also been the case on their home field, where Pittsburgh went 6-2 SU this season, averaging 29 PPG. More impressive is their record against quality foes. Since losing to Baltimore in Week 2, Pittsburgh has won and covered 6 consecutive games against teams with a winning record.
On a cool, windy and rainy night in the Steel City look for Pittsburgh to overcome the elements and emerge with a playoff victory against their hated division rival. Thus extending their mark to 8-0 SU, 8-1 ATS in post-season play vs. divisional rivals. Check status of RB Bell for definitive, while looking at the NFL odds.
NFL Pick: Take Pittsburgh Steelers -3 at BetOnline