BALTIMORE RAVENS (7-2)
at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (6-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, 8:20 p.m. EDT
Line: Baltimore -3.5, Total: 40
One of the NFLís biggest rivalries resumes, but with a bunch of key players missing, when Baltimore visits Pittsburgh on Sunday night.
The Ravens will continue to be without LB Ray Lewis (triceps) and CBs Lardarius Webb (ACL) and Jimmy Smith (hernia), while Pittsburgh will be missing QB Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder), WR Antonio Brown (ankle) and likely S Troy Polamalu (calf). With Roethlisberger out indefinitely, the Steelers will go conservative with back-up Byron Leftwich, a statue in the pocket. The Ravens swept Pittsburgh last year, SU and ATS, including a last-second win on a Torrey Smith TD at Heinz Field. Nine of these teamsí last 11 meetings have been decided by one possession.
Can the injury-riddled Steelers beat their division foe on Sunday night? For the answer, connect to The Platinum Sheet for all the StatFox Experts picks for every NFL game throughout the 2012 season and playoffs.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco has played pretty well in this series, throwing 6 TD and just one interception over the past four meetings with Pittsburgh. He's also coming off one of the best games of his career, tallying four total touchdowns and throwing for 341 yards. The emergence of WR Torrey Smith (3 TD in past two games) and consistency of WR Anquan Boldin (4+ catches in six of seven games) should allow Baltimore to move the football through the air despite Pittsburgh's league-best pass defense (171 YPG allowed). The ground game is a bit of a concern though, as the Ravens have been held to fewer than 90 rushing yards in three of the past four games, and RB Ray Rice is battling a toe injury. Since running for 141 yards in Pittsburgh in 2009, Rice has been held to 95 yards on 38 carries (2.5 YPC) in his past three visits to Heinz Field. And it is never easy running through the Steel Curtain, as Pittsburgh currently ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing defense (95 YPG). However, the Steelers did give up 142 rushing yards (4.1 YPC) in last week's 16-13 overtime win over Kansas City.
Leftwich hasn't faced this Ravens defense since 2005 when he led the Jaguars to a 30-3 victory, throwing for 211 yards and a touchdown. In relief of Roethlisberger last week, Leftwich completed 7-of-14 passes for 73 yards (5.2 YPA), 0 TD and 0 INT. Although he still has use of the team's leading receiver in WR Mike Wallace (539 rec. yds) and leading pass catcher in TE Heath Miller (43 receptions), who have both scored six touchdowns, the Steelers will likely employ a heavy ground game. RB Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) expects to return to the field for the first time since Week 6 to join Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman in the backfield. After three straight games with 140+ rushing yards, the Steelers were held to a mere 95 yards (3.3 YPC) last week, as Dwyer managed just 56 yards on 19 carries (2.9 YPC) and Redman was even worse at 21 yards on eight attempts (2.6 YPC). But without many of their stars on defense, this Baltimore team has been among the worst in the NFL, ranking 26th in both passing defense (258 YPG) and rushing defense (132 YPG). Despite these poor rankings, Baltimore ranks 13th in scoring defense, allowing just 21.8 PPG.