By Jeremy Hritz
Hritz 2012 Prediction Record: 7-4
The Pittsburgh Steelers are gearing up to play the Baltimore Ravens for the second time in three weeks, and there is a noticeably different feel to this game for many reasons: the absence of Ben Roethlisberger and the three game lead that the Ravens have over the Steelers in the division. In the grand scheme of things, Baltimore more than likely has secured the division title, and the Steelers can probably do no better than a Wild Card spot. While both the Steelers and Ravens are guaranteed nothing, winning or losing this game should not influence the post-season direction that these teams are headed.
If the Ravens win, they will stay in contention for the number one seed in the AFC with Houston and will all but lock up the AFC North Division title should the Cincinnati Bengals lose. If the Steelers win, they will take another step forward in securing a Wild Card spot. Yet there is something greater that the Steelers can take away with them tomorrow if they get a victory, and that is the confidence that they can win in Baltimore, something that they must prove that they are able to do in the event that they face the Ravens in the playoffs. The Ravens have won the last three games against the Steelers and are one game away from their second consecutive regular season sweep.
The Ravens success at home over the past three years is well documented. The Ravens have won fifteen straight games at home, and the last time the Ravens have lost at M&T Bank Stadium was against the Steelers in 2010, 13-10 (the broken nose game). Undoubtedly, the Steelers are facing a daunting task this Sunday away from Heinz Field without their franchise quarterback. Yet if they are to make a run as a Wild Card this year, they must improve their play on the road and start winning games, and Sunday in Baltimore with the odds stacked against them, is a great place to start. If the Steelers can win this second match-up against the Ravens with Charlie Batch, then there is no reason to believe they cannot go on the road anywhere come January and win football games.
Something has to give this weekend. The Ravens have been winning this season despite less than stellar play, and have been on the precipice of defeat several times. Regardless, their average play has not come back to bite them in the loss column, and they have found ways to win. The Steelers are at risk of losing their third straight game, something that hasn’t happened since 2009, the last time they missed the playoffs. They have also underperformed since their tremendous win against the New York Giants, so it would seem that they are due for improved play.
While the Steelers are playing with less than a full deck, they are getting Troy Polamalu and Antonio Brown back, both players who could provide sparks. If Polamalu can help increase pressure on the quarterback or make an interception, and if Brown can convert third downs or contribute in the return game, it could be the difference maker
Yesterday, Mike Preston, writer for the Baltimore Sun composed a piece entitled “Steelers can’t beat the Ravens without Roethlisberger.” While this seems logical and rational considering the injuries plaguing the Steelers, and the fact that they are playing in Baltimore against a team with an impressive home win streak, if the NFL teachers anything week to week, it is that logic does not always apply. The Ravens were dead to rights last week before Ray Rice picked up a seemingly impossible third down. The Steelers, who have owned the Cleveland Browns, turned over the ball eight times in a rare divisional loss. Earlier this season, the Arizona Cardinals beat the New England Patriots at home, and the Minnesota Vikings upset the formidable San Francisco 49ers. Just when it seems that we have it all figured out regarding who the most dominating teams are, we are thrown a curve ball.
The bottom line is that this Ravens team, while they continue to win, have fundamental flaws on defense and on the offensive line that the Steelers can expose. While they have won at home, several of their wins this year have been close, (New England, Cleveland, Dallas). The 2012 Steelers are a team that has not hit their stride yet this season and has not yet put together a complete game. They have the potential to be a much better team than they have shown this year, despite their performances in the last three games which have been near-pathetic.
Based on the ineptness of the offense in the first game against the Ravens in Pittsburgh and on the pitiful turnover-fest in Cleveland, there is no reason to believe that the Steelers even have a chance tomorrow, which is all the more reason to believe that they will win.
The Steelers are a better team than what they have shown, and I believe that even as a Wild Card, this unit will challenge for another title. Todd Haley realizes that the best chance for the Steelers offense will be on the ground, and with the anointing of Jonathan Dwyer as the starting running back, it appears that they are preparing to pound the ball. We have seen the results when Dwyer gets hot, and with his new blessing from the coaching staff, he may be more motivated than ever to make a statement.
Dwyer goes over 100 yards, Brown has a big day in the return game, and the Steelers force multiple turnovers to get the win. Sound implausible?
So does eight Steelers turnovers against the Browns.
Steelers 13 Ravens 10