NFL Picks For Wild-Card Round: Steelers -3 Vs. Ravens

Matthew Jordan

Monday, December 29, 2014 8:39 PM UTC

Monday, Dec. 29, 2014 8:39 PM UTC

Ravens-Steelers remains one of football's top rivalries and they face off Saturday in a wild-card round game. The host Steelers are -3 on BetOnline's NFL odds.

Ravens Can Thank Chiefs
Baltimore snuck into the playoffs as the AFC's No. 6 seed with a rather ugly 20-10 home win Sunday over a Cleveland team that started undrafted rookie Connor Shaw at quarterback. The Ravens also had to have San Diego lose in Kansas City and the Chargers complied. Baltimore trailed Cleveland 10-3 entering the fourth quarter but scored the game's final 17 points. Joe Flacco gave Baltimore the lead for good on a 16-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith with 7:33 left. Flacco had a solid day, going 22-for-36 for 312 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. Justin Forsett continued his breakout season with 17 carries for 119 yards. It was Flacco's first 300-yard game since Week 9 and his first with multiple TD throws and no picks since Week 13. Flacco had his worst season in 2013 but bounced back nicely by completing 62 percent for 3,986 yards and 27 touchdowns, the latter two career highs. His 12 interceptions tied for the second fewest in a season. His 90.9 rating was his second best.

Of course the last time Flacco was in the playoffs he was brilliant and it earned him a huge contract extension. In the postseason following the 2012 season, Flacco had 11 touchdowns and  no interceptions in four wins, also adding Super Bowl MVP honors.

The Ravens played Cleveland without both starting offensive tackles, Rick Wagner and Eugene Monroe, as well as arguably the team's top defensive player in tackle Haloti Ngata. Wagner is done for the season as he was put on injured reserve last week with a foot injury. Monroe was inactive with an ankle injury but there's a chance he can return. Ngata will be back. He was suspended the final four regular-season games for violating the league's drug policy. The team can use the two-time All-Pro because  his replacement, Timmy Jernigan, was taken off the field Sunday after suffering a foot injury.  

The Ravens were 3-4-1 against the NFL betting spread on the road during the season and 5-3 'over/under.'


Steelers Hoping on Bell
The Steelers finished off the best offensive season in team history with their first AFC North title since 2010, which was the last time the team was in the postseason. They beat visiting Cincinnati 27-17 on Sunday night in a winner-take-all game for the division and the No. 3 seed in the AFC. Ben Roethlisberger finished his monster year by throwing for 317 yards and two touchdowns. Antonio Brown was the NFL's best receiver this season and he was everywhere against the Bengals. He caught seven passes for 128 yards, including a 63-yard score. He also had a 71-yard punt return for the game's final score.

Roethlisberger finished dead even with the Saints' Drew Brees for the NFL passing title with a career-high 4,952 yards. Big Ben also tied his career-high with 32 touchdowns and was picked off only nine times. Brown led the NFL with 129 catches (second most in league history) and 1,698 yards.  His 13 TD catches were tied for second in the league.

The news wasn't all good from Sunday, however. Running back Le'Veon Bell blossomed into a star in his second year, but he left against Cincinnati with a knee injury after being hit on the right knee by safety Reggie Nelson at the end of a 19-yard reception. An MRI revealed nothing serious but Bell is in doubt for Saturday with a hyperextended knee. He will have to play through a lot of pain to go. Bell was named the team's MVP this year, rushing for 1,361 yards (No. 2 in NFL) and eight touchdowns while catching 83 passes for 854 yards and three scores. If he can't play, that's obviously huge. Rookies Dri Archer and Josh Harris are the only other running backs on the Steelers' 53-man roster after the team waived LeGarrette Blount earlier this season. Blount was a malcontent, but I wonder if the Steelers are regretting that now.

The Steelers were 5-3 ATS at home and 6-2 'over/under' on NFL odds.


Season Series
The teams split blowouts, each winning at home. In Week 2 the Ravens were 2.5-point home favorites at sportsbooks and won 26-6. The total yards were nearly even on each side but the Steelers turned it over three times to none for Baltimore. It was the fourth-highest margin of  victory ever for the Ravens vs. the Steelers.

In Week 8 in Pittsburgh, the Steelers were -2.5 on NFL odds and rolled 43-23. Roethlisberger set an NFL record by throwing for six touchdowns for the second week in a row. He finished with 340 yards and no turnovers. Brown caught 11 passes for 144 yards and a 54-yard score. Flacco threw for 303 and two scores but was picked off once and sacked four times.

The home team has won four straight in this series. They last met in the playoffs in the divisional round on Jan. 15, 2011. Pittsburgh won at home 31-24. Flacco threw for only 125 yards in that one.  Pittsburgh is 3-0 vs. the Ravens all time in the postseason.

Free NFL Pick: Steelers -3 and 'under' 46.5 points
I think Bell guts it out. Early forecast is temperatures in the high 20s and good chance of snow Saturday night. That should slow down offenses. Get this NFL pick before it jumps to 3.5, which it already has at some sportsbooks. Baltimore has covered just one of the past six meetings. The under is 4-0 in Pittsburgh's past four after an ATS win.

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