In the third and final game of the Thanksgiving trifecta, the Baltimore Ravens (6-4) will play the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers (10-0). The Ravens have suffered back-to-back losses as they desperately try to regain playoff position in the AFC. In contrast, the Steelers try to make history and continue to hold off the Chiefs as the number one seed in the AFC to clinch a first-round bye and home-field advantage.
After Pittsburgh’s 28-24 victory in the matchup four weeks ago, here is a preview for the second round of the Ravens and Steelers, complete with a free pick. With lots of COVID-19 concerns for Baltimore, Pittsburgh has moved up to being a five-point favorite.
Last year’s number one seed, led by the unanimous MVP in quarterback Lamar Jackson, seemed to pick up right where they left off in the first two weeks of the season with blowout victories in both games. But since then, the Ravens have struggled, losing three of their last five games and falling out of a playoff spot. Part of it is attributed to struggling against good teams. A loss to the Patriots is Baltimore’s only loss to a team below .500, while wins against the Browns and Colts are their only victories against teams with winning records.
Much like we’re accustomed to seeing, the Ravens are running the ball a lot, averaging a league-high 160.5 rushing yards per game. And while their 26.8 points per game is a respectable 12th, Baltimore has struggled when forced to throw. Only one team is averaging less than Baltimore’s 183.4 passing yards per game, especially telling given how often they have had to throw when trailing the last few weeks. As a result of their imbalanced offense, the Ravens are 23rd with just under 358 total yards.
Defensively, Baltimore still has a very solid group. They are giving up 19.5 points per game, the third-fewest in football, on just under 354 total yards. They’ve been better against the pass than the run but ranks in the top half of the league in both. They also have the third-highest third-down stop percentage at 34.5. Baltimore is tied for fifth with 27 sacks but has just five interceptions as a team.
After last season’s injury-marred campaign and a .500 record, the Steelers have a team on a mission in 2020. Led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back James Conner, and breakout receivers like Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh has been able to score against anybody. Meanwhile, they have a defense that is hands-down the best in football, and a big reason they are still without their first loss. Thursday will be a good test, though, as it’s just the fourth game the Steelers will play against a team above .500.
The names mentioned above have helped Pittsburgh average just under 30 points per game, ranking fourth in the NFL. But they have been aided by a defense that is getting a ton of takeaways and putting them in great field position. As a result, the Steelers are only 24th in total yards with 356.5 and sit 18th and 21st in passing and rushing yards, respectively. They are eighth in third-down percentage, just under a percentage point better than their opponents for this game.
But as we mentioned earlier, Pittsburgh’s dominance on defense is the main reason they haven’t been defeated yet. No team allows fewer points per game than their 17.4, while they also rank sixth with 333 total yards allowed. They have been pretty much equal against the pass and run, ranking within the top-10 in both. However, what sets the Steelers apart from the other teams is the number of game-changing plays they make on defense. They are first in the league with 38 sacks, 15 interceptions, and both takeaways and turnover differential.
It has been a challenging week for Baltimore, with word of positive COVID-19 tests being reported on Thursday. As the team conducted all meetings virtually on Monday and Tuesday, there are four Ravens on the Reserve/COVID-19 (running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins, linebacker Pernell McPhee, and defensive tackle Brandon Williams). With all those players already ruled out, defensive end Calais Campbell and cornerback Jimmy Smith haven’t practiced this week and are on the injury reports. Others like tight end Mark Andrews and linebacker Matthew Judon were limited in practice.
Pittsburgh’s situation isn’t as bad, but they still have a few names to monitor between now and Thursday night. Cornerback Joe Haden and o-linemen David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey didn’t practice on Tuesday, although the latter two were for non-injury reasons. However, both Roethlisberger and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster were limited, as was defensive tackle Cameron Hayward.
The Steelers are a perfect 10-0 straight up, but they are also a very good 8-2 against the spread. Meanwhile, the Ravens are just 4-5-1 against the spread this season. Pittsburgh is 4-2 ATS when favored by 4.5 or more in a game, while Baltimore is 3-3-1 when they’re an underdog of 4.5 or more. However, one advantage for Baltimore is their play at Heinz Field, where they are 4-0-2 ATS in their last six visits.
This is a tough game to predict because there are a couple of different ways to look at it. On one hand, Baltimore’s inconsistent offense may be overwhelmed by the smothering defense of the Steelers, especially with their top two running backs out. But on the other hand, the Ravens nearly won earlier this year and seem a little more battle-tested through 11 weeks of the season.
Ultimately, this has the makings of a close game. While the Ravens are struggling to win games, they’re not losing by a lot in any of them. And with the Steelers, they have had to scratch and claw in wins against the better teams in the league, evident by when they were down 10 points the last time they played Baltimore. I will take the Steelers to win the game since they are healthier. But as the spread continues to increase, the more I like the Ravens to cover.
Pick: Ravens +5