Baltimore Ravens (8-6 SU, 6-8 ATS) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5 SU, 9-5 ATS)
Week 16 NFL
Date/Time: Sunday, Christmas Day, December 25, 2016 at 4:30PM EST
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
TV: NFL Network
By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: BAL +5/PIT -5
Over/Under Total: 44
On Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in a big AFC North matchup with playoff implications. If Pittsburgh wins, they will take the division. If they lose, Baltimore will be tied with them heading into the final week of the season, having completed the season-sweep on the Steelers. On Sunday, both teams won, with the Ravens stopping a late 2-point conversion to beat the Eagles, 27-26. The Steelers won their fifth game in a row with a 24-20 win over the Bengals. The Steelers get their last two games at home. In this latest 5-game win streak, four of those wins came on the road. Who gets the big win and who gets a lump of coal in their stocking on Christmas Day?
These teams met on November 6 at MT&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, with the Ravens taking it by a score of 21-14. For the Steelers, the game came in the midst of their awful 4-game losing streak that nearly derailed their whole season. They have looked a lot different lately in the midst of their 5-game win streak. The Steelers looked half-dead most of that first game, with the Ravens taking a 21-0 lead into the 4th quarter, before the Steelers added a few late scores, with their second TD in the final minute. They were never really in the game. Among the Ravens highlights was a 95-yard connection from Joe Flacco to Mike Wallace and a blocked punt that was returned for a score. The Steelers look for different results this week, as they are in better form and at home this time around.
Baltimore really needs this one. They've been fairly streaky, while showing the ability to reverse course when things aren't going well. They looked good at 3-0 to open the season, before losing 4 in a row and looking like a team that wouldn't be able to come back. But with five wins in their last 7 games, Baltimore has righted the ship and is a win away from being in a great spot. They've gotten better play on offense, while showcasing a balanced defense that thrives against the run and through the air.
The Baltimore offense has been up and down this season, but at their best, can be a pretty potent bunch, led by veteran Joe Flacco and his 3788 yards. His 19-to-13 TD-INT ratio isn't great perhaps, but he's a steely competitor who knows how to win in December and beyond. Receiver Mike Wallace, reborn in this system, will surpass 1000 yards in this game. Also chipping in is Steve Smith, Sr., TE Dennis Pitta, Kamar Aiken, and Breshad Perriman. The run-game sometimes lacks productivity, but Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon have been decent in spots.
The Baltimore defense has been put to the test in their last two games with the Pats putting up 30 on them and Philly putting up 26 last week. Before that, they had allowed 14 or fewer points in 4 of their previous 5 games. So they'd like to find their best form for the home stretch of the season. If they're going to pull this off, the "D" will need to play a focal role. They have been clutch in spots, as they were on Sunday, stopping the Eagles' 2-point conversion for the win and escaping with the 1-point victory. They've gotten solid play across all areas. Up front, DT Timmy Jernigan has had a good season, with Zachary Orr, Terrell Suggs and CJ Mosley providing a game-changing presence in the middle. In the secondary, first-year Ravens safety Eric Weddle has shined in this system, with Lardarius Webb, Shareece Wright, and Tavon Young also adding solid play. They've allowed less than 19 points a game on average, while being second in the league against the run, with the 5th-ranked defense overall.
Pittsburgh deserves a lot of credit for turning things around when a lot of teams would have stayed down after things got so sideways. The offense just never really became the unit some thought it would be. The defense went through a bad period, no doubt affected by the injuries they sustained. They were at 4-6 with 4 of their next five games coming on the road and they won all of them. They are a win here away from making it all work somehow.
The Steelers' offense hasn't been what they imagined, with a high-powered aerial attack made something less by injuries, suspensions, inconsistent play, and youthful mistakes. Ben Roethlisberger is at 3540 yards and 26 touchdowns. Antonio Brown is still among the tops in the league, but what was supposed to be a standout pass-catching crew never developed in the face of a ton of issues. Young Eli Rogers did step up on Sunday with a 4th quarter TD grab. The key to the offense is Le'Veon Bell, who missed time and is still among the top backs with 1146 yards on the ground along with 72 receptions. If only the offense filled out the way they wanted to, but it's still a pretty good one.
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Key to the Steelers' late revival has been the defense. In this five game win streak, they have given up a total of 70 points, pretty good with four of those games being away from home. They have been tough against the run, with an added playmaking component, enhanced by key players returning to the rotation. The front has been adept in stopping the run and getting after quarterbacks, led by Stephon Tuitt, Ryan Shazier, and still-menacing James Harrison. In the secondary, Artie Burns is developing nicely, with Mike Mitchell, Ross Cockrell, and Sean Davis. They've finally realized some of the promise they showed last season after some really rough patches this season.
A case can definitely be made on the Steelers. They're in good form, at home, and in a high-stakes situation where they can realize what they worked so hard for. One must take into account the character and resolve needed to reverse course as dramatically as they have. But the Ravens have some of that at play too. With Pittsburgh not showing the offensive electricity to blow teams away, I see this one staying somewhat close. I'm taking the points.
Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Baltimore Ravens plus 5 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet the Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh game by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 100% sign-up bonus!