coleryan Posts:11963 Followers:19
On 11/25/2013 12:54 PM in NFL

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens: Preview and Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens: Preview and Pick

The holiday season is a time for friends and family to get together and celebrate and love one another. Don’t expect any of that when these two teams take the field on Thanksgiving night. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens have one of the fiercest rivalries in all of football. They always play a physical brand of football and this time around there is plenty on the line in this game. Both teams are fighting for a playoff spot and will leave it all on the field when they meet this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens Odds

The opening NFL point spread for this game opened with the Ravens listed as (-3) favorites. Since it is such an intense rivalry, the early betting trend is nearly split as 54 percent of the action is on the home team. The point spread has slightly moved and it can now be found at (-2.5) leading up to kickoff at several of the top rated online sportsbook.

The Steelers started off slow, but they are no on a winning streak. They have now become contenders for a playoff spot along with their bitter rivals, the Ravens. Joe Flacco was 14-of-18 for 249 yards and a touchdown against four or fewer pass rushers on Sunday. Flacco entered Sunday with a -4 TD-Int differential against standard pressure, tied for fourth worst in the league. Flacco completed 2-of-3 passes deeper than 30 yards downfield for 126 yards and a touchdown against the Jets, including a 66-yard touchdown to Jacoby Jones. Flacco was 4-of-17 with an interception on those throws this season. Both of these teams are playing great football heading into what could be the best game for Thanksgiving day!

The latest football betting trends for this game reveal some betting angles that are worth watching for this big game. Pittsburgh is 3-7 straight up in its last 10 games when playing on the road against Baltimore and the total has gone over in 4 of Pittsburgh's last 6 games when playing on the road against Baltimore. From a betting standpoint Baltimore is 1-4 against the spread (ATS) in its last 5 games when playing at home against Pittsburgh and Baltimore is 7-3 straight up in its last 10 games when playing at home against Pittsburgh. Baltimore is 22-3 straight up in its last 25 games at home, while Pittsburgh is 5-13 ATS in its last 18 games on the road.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens Pick

With plenty of time to go before the start of is big game, I will wait to release my pick on this game until we get closer to game day.

coleryan Posts:11963 Followers:19
11/27/2013 02:02 PM

The Pittsburgh Steelers are playing their best football of the season, but are still on the outside of the muddled AFC playoff picture. With a Thanksgiving night visit to the archrival Baltimore Ravens, they face a team that's essentially in the exact same position.

Both AFC North teams are among the half-dozen teams in the conference currently tied for the final wild-card berth, making this game a potentially season-altering contest.

"That team is hot," Ravens running back Ray Rice said of the Steelers. "They're playing good football right now. They have (a) group, they have their stable of how they want to play football and they're doing a good job of it right now."

The two teams are tied with Titans, Chargers, Jets and Dolphins for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC, though Tennessee would make the cut currently. The top two tiebreakers for the wild card are head-to-head record and winning percentage within the conference, and with Baltimore having already lost in Pittsburgh, the Ravens may be especially desperate Thursday.

"They are a tough team, we have to go into their place and look forward to a good battle," said Steelers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. "There is a lot on the line with this game like it always is when we play them. It always seems like whenever either team is trying to get somewhere, the other is in their way.

"It's that way this week as we are battling in the division and it's going to be a good game Thanksgiving night."

Pittsburgh (5-6) has won three games in a row, all by double-digits. During the stretch, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been mostly mistake-free, completing 63.3 percent of his passes while throwing seven touchdowns to just one interception.

Roethlisberger threw for two scores in a 27-11 win at Cleveland in Week 12, but the Steelers' best performance came from their defense. The unit had a season-high five sacks, held the Browns to just 55 rushing yards, and cornerback William Gay sealed the win in the fourth quarter with a 21-yard interception return for a touchdown.

"Defensively, it was simple. We were able to stop the run, and that put us in position to apply pressure to the quarterback," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. "In doing so, we were able to create some turnovers and some big plays, and to actually score."

The Steelers have given up just 4.97 yards per play during their streak after New England shredded them for 8.59 per snap in a 55-31 loss Nov. 3, and they could have another good chance to shine Thursday. The Ravens' offense ranks 31st in the NFL, averaging just 4.54 yards per play.

When the teams met on Oct. 20 at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh held the Ravens out of the end zone until Baltimore tied the score at 16 with 1:58 to play. Roethlisberger then drove the Steelers down the field, setting up a game-winning 42-yard field goal from Shaun Suisham.

That close contest was hardly an exception to the rivals' recent matchups. Since the start of the 2009 season, eight of the teams' nine meetings have been decided by exactly three points.

Baltimore (5-6) also is coming off of a win dominated by its defense, having knocked off the New York Jets 19-3 on Sunday. The Ravens' pass defense was outstanding, allowing Geno Smith to compete just 40.9 percent of his throws, and Baltimore cornerback Corey Graham had a pair of interceptions.

"In the end, we just felt like let's win a game just for the defense, for us," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "Not nobody else, just defense let's go out and try to win a game on our own."

The Ravens have been a much better team this season at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore is 4-1 at home, allowing just 10.8 points per game in those contests.

The Steelers have won three of their last five visits to Baltimore, though, including a 23-20 win last December with Charlie Batch filling in for an injured Roethlisberger. The Ravens have lost only five of their other 42 home games since 2009.

Though having such an important game on a short week makes for potentially challenging circumstances, the two sides won't have to go through much new information.

"We'll be running stuff that we know and understand against a team that we pretty much understand," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I'm sure there will be a wrinkle or two that they'll throw at us that we'll have to be ready for and just go play football."

There's one wrinkle Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco would prefer his team not employ, however. Baltimore used backup QB Tyrod Taylor in the wildcat often against the Jets, with Taylor taking five snaps and lining up as a receiver on seven other plays.

Flacco was not a fan.

''I don't like that stuff. ... I'm the quarterback," Flacco said. "I want to be behind the line of scrimmage, I want to be taking the snaps.''

coleryan Posts:11963 Followers:19
11/27/2013 02:05 PM

Starting defensive end Brett Keisel practiced fully for the second day in a row, and he is on track to return to action Thursday night in Baltimore.

Keisel (foot) and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) have missed the past two games because of injuries, and each has practiced both days this week. Woodley was limited in drills Tuesday after practicing fully on Monday.

Safety Shamarko Thomas (ankle) practiced fully for the second consecutive day and linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring) practiced fully on Tuesday after being limited in drills on Monday. Sylvester is expected to play against the Ravens.

Steve McLendon is the only player who has been ruled out for the 8:30 p.m. ET game on Thursday, and all signs point to Al Woods replacing McLendon at nose tackle.

Woods filled in for McLendon last Sunday after the latter left the Browns game with a sprained ankle, and Woods recorded the first two sacks of his Steelers career. The 6-foot-4, 307-pound Woods is listed as a defensive end but he said he is also comfortable playing nose tackle.

“If I am starting it'd be great, but we don't know what's going to happen yet,” Woods said. “I'm just getting ready to play, man. I'm not really worried about starting and all of that. Whenever they call my number I'm just going to be ready.”

Hebron Fangupo is also expected to get some snaps at nose tackle against the Ravens, and Ziggy Hood is a candidate to play there as well even though he is a defensive end.

“You have to have a Plan B and Plan C, and Ziggy has always been a depth guy for us at nose,” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said.

coleryan Posts:11963 Followers:19
11/27/2013 02:05 PM

A 100-yard rushing game is apparently the last thing that will come for Le'Veon Bell.

Everything else is falling into place for the rookie running back, and that is why Bell has completely changed the complexion of a once feeble ground game even though he is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry.

Bell has earned the trust of offensive coordinator Todd Haley with his ability to pick up blitzes, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger raved about Bell's grasp of the offense even though Bell will play in just his ninth NFL game Thursday night in Baltimore. Roethlisberger used to check with Bell before snaps to make sure he knew his assignments.

“He's telling me how much time is on the play clock and things like that,” Roethlisberger said. “I have to tell him, 'I see it. Don't worry, bud.' But that is the awareness that he has and you see the growth and maturation. I think it's great.”

So does Haley.

“He takes his job very seriously even though he is a young guy,” the second-year offensive coordinator said. “I think he wants to be good.”

Indeed, what may be most impressive about Bell is how studious he is.

The second-round draft pick has all of the attributes to be a quality if not star running back in the NFL. The 6-foot-1, 244-pounder has size, and he is a patient yet decisive runner. Bell also has the ability to make people miss, and that's what also makes the former Michigan State star an attractive receiving option out of the backfield.

For all of his physical talent, Bell consistently studies film to help accelerate his acclimation to the speed of the NFL game. And he goes into every practice with the goal getting better in at least one area.

“I just want to get more comfortable with the offense,” said Bell, who has 711 rushing and receiving yards combined and four touchdowns. “I want to really become a focal point of the offense, make a lot of plays. There's a lot of guys who motivate me in this offense to try to be the best that I can be and make plays week in and week out.”

Bell said he watches film to help sharpen his reaction time for when he has to dodge a would-be tackler, and you get the sense that with his work ethic and talent Bell is on the cusp of breaking out.

The Steelers would love nothing better than for Bell to record the first 100-yard rushing game of his career Thursday night in Baltimore.

He came close to accomplishing that feat the first time the fierce rivals met, rushing for 93 yards on 19 carries in the Steelers' 19-16 win over the Ravens. Running room has been tougher to come by for Bell since that game, but the Steelers are pleased with the strides he has made on a weekly basis.

“He is by no means there yet, but there's enough for all of us to be excited about him going forward,” Haley said.

Haley shrugged off the importance of Bell getting a 100-yard rushing game just to bolster his confidence. The Steelers have to love the answer Bell gave when asked the same question that was posed to Haley.

“I really don't care about my stats,” Bell said. “If I've got 25 yards rushing but we win, I'm taking that all day rather than 150 yards rushing and losing.”

coleryan Posts:11963 Followers:19
11/27/2013 02:07 PM

While getting back to .500 isn't the ultimate goal for either the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens, it certainly is a good start to accomplishing the task of making the playoffs.

The Steelers look to continue their recent hot play and win on Thanksgiving Day for the first time in 63 years as they visit the rival Ravens.

Pittsburgh and Baltimore are two of six teams tied for the AFC's second wild card position at 5-6. That also had the clubs two games back of the AFC North- leading Cincinnati Bengals.

While the Ravens have struggled to string together consistency all season, winning back-to-back games just once and not since Weeks 2 and 3, the Steelers have won three straight and five of their past seven following an 0-4 start.

Pittsburgh is coming off a victory over another division rival last Sunday, picking up a 27-11 road triumph over the Cleveland Browns. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 217 yards and completed touchdown passes to Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, while William Gay took an interception 21 yards for a score.

Brown and Sanders both hauled in six passes total, with Brown notching a team- leading 92 yards.

"Right now we're playing playoff football," said Sanders. "We're not worrying about anything else."

Though Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon had a big game with 14 receptions for 237 yards, Pittsburgh's defense logged five sacks and recovered three fumbles in addition to Gay's pick-six.

The Steelers will now try to win on Thanksgiving for the first time since 1950 and are playing on the holiday for the first time since a loss at Detroit in 1998.

Pittsburgh is 1-5 all-time on Thanksgiving, while Baltimore will play on the day for the second time in franchise history. The Ravens and head coach John Harbaugh picked up a 16-6 win over San Francisco and John's brother Jim in 2011.

Baltimore has won two of three since a three-game slide and are trying to start up another win streak after recording a 19-3 win over the New York Jets last weekend.

Despite the windy conditions in Baltimore, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker connected on four field goals and quarterback Joe Flacco hooked up with Jacoby Jones for a 66-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.

Flacco ended with 273 yards passing, while the Jets didn't score after a first-quarter field goal and ended with 220 yards of offense. The Ravens also recorded at least one sack for a 22nd game in a row, matching a franchise record.

"Our defense played really well. All three levels played exceptionally well," said Baltimore's Harbaugh.

In addition to the sacks, linebacker Terrell Suggs recovered a fumble and cornerback Corey Graham picked off a pair of passes.

"We knew going into the game that we were going to have to play good, solid defense," said Graham. "We wanted to be aggressive and to get our hands on the receivers and make (Jets quarterback Geno Smith) make tight throws, and we were able to do that. We were able to execute our game plan, make a lot of plays, and we just took advantage of the ones that came to us."

History says that this meeting will be an exciting one to cap the NFL's slate of Thanksgiving games. Nine of the previous 11 encounters between the Ravens and Steelers have been decided by three points, including Pittsburgh's 19-16 home victory on Oct. 20.

Shaun Suisham hit four field goals, including the winner from 42 yards out as time expired. It came just under two minutes after the Ravens had tied the contest when Flacco hit tight end Dallas Clark for a one-yard touchdown pass.

However, Pittsburgh is now looking to win three straight regular-season games versus Baltimore for the first time since a four-game series win streak from 2001-03.

The Ravens, though, have won seven of the past 10 meetings at home.

coleryan Posts:11963 Followers:19
11/27/2013 02:07 PM

Flacco and Roethlisberger should get plenty of attention on Thursday night as both teams rank near the bottom of the NFL in running the ball.

Roethlisberger has thrown for at least 150 yards in the first half in five of his past eight games and last weekend surpassed the 3,000-yard passing for an eighth time. He is also just three touchdown passes away from passing Terry Bradshaw (212) for the most in franchise history.

Big Ben's success has helped Brown put together a career campaign. He has 80 catches for 1,044 yards and a career-high six touchdowns, becoming the fourth receiver in team annuals to reach 80 catches in a single campaign.

He has been a favorite target of Roethlisberger's, making at least five receptions in a club-record 11 straight games.

Like the Steelers, the Ravens don't score a bunch of points -- both teams are averaging less than 23 points a game -- and Flacco has been going without last season's No. 1 wideout Anquan Boldin, traded in the offseason, and injured tight end Dennis Pitta, who had 61 receptions and seven touchdowns a season ago.

Torrey Smith has emerged as a top-level deep threat in an expanded role this season, with the wideout averaging 17.9 yards per reception and totaling 859 yards on just 48 catches.

However, running back Ray Rice continues to struggle in a season that saw him suffer a hip injury that held him out of Week 3. He is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry and though he is second on the club with 37 receptions, he has just 175 yards for an average of 4.7 per catch.

Rice insists he is healthy, but he will have to get going if the Ravens are to be successful.

"It's still tough sledding," Rice said of the upcoming schedule. "We have to count them one game at a time, and I'm just glad the team was able to focus and get it done and not look past the Jets. Now, we have another challenge coming up."

The Ravens and Steelers both remain competitive because of their defenses, though Pittsburgh is yielding 118.8 YPG on the ground. The unit did hold Rice to 45 yards on 15 carries in the earlier meeting.

Of more concern for Pittsburgh may be Smith and Jones after the Steelers' secondary was lit up by Gordon. His big game helped Cleveland amass 312 net yards of passing last weekend against a secondary that is yielding 224.4 YPG.

The unit was able to overcome the yardage by forcing the ball loose on a number of occasions. Safety Troy Polamalu had two forced fumbles, recovering one, and Gay also knocked the ball free.

"It was definitely nice getting turnovers, but we gave up a lot of big plays on the back end. If we want to compete with the elite teams in this league, we can't do that," said Polamalu, who also had one of Pittsburgh's five sacks.

The Ravens have been solid all year long against both the run and the pass, and are yielding just 19.5 points per game to rank in the top 10. Graham's two picks gave him three on the season and Baltimore a total of nine.

Linebacker Elvis Dumervil had a sack versus the Jets and leads the Ravens with 9 1/2, just ahead of Suggs' nine.

Suggs had three of his club's nine sacks when the Ravens beat the 49ers on Thanksgiving.