The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have given football fans quite the gift with their intense rivalry, but the AFC North rivals are in line to give themselves an impressive present on Christmas Day with a victory at the other’s expense. Pittsburgh can clinch the division with a victory on Sunday at Heinz Field while Baltimore can claim the AFC North title with wins in its final two games.
While the Steelers have won five in a row overall to claim a one-game edge in the standings over the Ravens, Baltimore has emerged victorious in four straight in the series – including a 21-14 triumph on Nov. 6. Mike Wallace reeled in a 95-yard touchdown reception in that tilt and was quick to gift-wrap bulletin-board material this week by telling his former Pittsburgh teammates, “Just because I tell you Merry Christmas doesn’t mean I wouldn’t score a touchdown on you. I can tell you Merry Christmas on the way to the end zone.” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger passed and rushed for a score in the first meeting with Baltimore and connected with Eli Rogers in the fourth quarter of a 24-20 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday. Six field goals by kicker Chris Boswell packed a punch against the Bengals, who may have the final say of who wins this division when they host the Ravens in a key Week 17 showdown on New Year’s Day.
TV: 4:30 p.m. ET, NFL Network. LINE: Steelers -4.5. O/U: 44
ABOUT THE RAVENS (8-6): Joe Flacco (career-best 374 completions this season) threw two touchdown passes on Sunday as Baltimore posted its fifth win in seven outings with a 27-26 victory over Philadelphia. The 31-year-old Flacco owns a 5-3 mark at Heinz Field since the beginning of 2010 but has struggled on the road this season, losing his last four away from home and tossing seven interceptions in six games. Terrance West rolled up 122 yards from scrimmage (77 rushing, 45 receiving) versus the Eagles, but was limited to just 21 yards on 15 carries in last month’s meeting with Pittsburgh’s fifth-ranked run defense (89.1). Linebacker Zachary Orr recorded 10 of his AFC third-best 122 tackles in the first encounter with the Steelers.
ABOUT THE STEELERS (9-5): Le’Veon Bell leads the NFL with 158.8 yards from scrimmage per game and his 1,146 rushing yards are third-best in the league despite serving a three-game suspension to begin the season. The electric Bell, however, was limited to 32 yards rushing against Baltimore’s second-ranked run defense (82.1) in the first meeting. Wideout Antonio Brown found the end zone against the Ravens and his 11 touchdowns this season and 96 catches are second-best in the league. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who has a team-leading 98 tackles, has 10-plus tackles in five of the last seven encounters with Baltimore.
1. Baltimore’s Shareece Wright could be inserted into the starting lineup with fellow CB Jimmy Smith (ankle) missing his second straight day of practice on Thursday.
2. Steelers veteran LB James Harrison recorded two sacks in the last encounter with the Ravens and has five in the last four meetings.
3. Seven of the last eight regular-season encounters between the teams at Heinz Field have been decided by three points.
PREDICTION: Steelers 24, Ravens 20