NFL Divisional Playoff Betting: Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers
"When Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger has played the Steelers have won the last six battles in this continuing war."
This will be a hard-fought game between two gritty, never-say-die competitors. The home side may just edge it, says Andy Richmond, but it's going to be very close...
Saturday January 15
Live on SKY Sports 2 21:30
Match odds: Baltimore [2.58], Seattle [1.62]
There are many divisional rivalries in the NFL but I reckon that this one is the best for toughness and sheer bloody-minded grit. We're lucky enough to see these two AFC North squads play twice a year, but it's always an extra treat to watch them face off in the playoffs.
Defences are known to dominate in this match-up but it's a quarterback that has defined the destination of the victory - when Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger has played the Steelers have won the last six battles in this continuing war. Pittsburgh and Baltimore both finished 12-4 in the regular season and scored 27 points apiece in their two meetings, each winning by a field goal on the other's home field. Five of the seven meetings over the past 28 months have been decided by three points, one by four and the other nine.
Roethlisberger plays, but for me the deciding factor will be how well the Ravens' offensive line handle the Steelers' dynamic and dominating defence, especially linebackers James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons. That trio could cause huge problems for Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, who was sacked four times at Kansas in the wild-card round. That same offensive line will need to open up holes for RB Ray Rice and Willis McGahee, and if they can't get into the second level of the Pittsburgh defence, the Ravens are going to have big problems. The Steelers allow only 62.8 rushing yards per game - by far, the best number in the league - and the two times these two teams played this year, Rice combined for 17 carries and 52 yards.
The offensive line must improve on those numbers if the Baltimore offence is going to find the balance it needs to beat the Steelers. While the offensive line is key to the Ravens' game - Flacco will need the same sort of help from tight end Todd Heap that he had against the Chiefs. Given time Roethlisberger will be looking to pick apart the Ravens' secondary, which he should do. Aside from Ed Reed, who's still world class, and Chris Carr, Baltimore's defensive backs are moderate to say the least.
Baltimore are an excellent road playoff team, and their mental toughness cannot be denied. The Ravens have now won five straight and have not lost a game all year by more than a touchdown. But they are operating on a short week. Pittsburgh lost only one game at home this season and should be very well-rested for this game. For me that just gives the Steelers the edge in what will be another tight game.
Back Pittsburgh winning margin 1-6 @ [4.5] or better, save on Baltimore winning margin 1-6 @ [5.7] or better.
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