Will it be a Merry Christmas in B-More?

Bold Predictions Will it be a Merry Christmas in B-More?

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Can the Ravens go into Pittsburgh on Christmas Day and reclaim their spot atop the AFC North? Our writers predict Ravens-Steelers here…

Tony Lombardi

The NFL football gods played their cards right. They hoped this game would be meaningful and potentially one that would decide the AFC North. It’s all that and more.

Steelers tackle Marcus Gilbert said “This game is going to be ours.” I’m sure that’s bulletin board material for the Ravens. We’ll see what Suggs has to say about that. Steelers safety Mike Mitchell weeks ago following a Steelers win said, “We’re coming for you Steve [Smith]!”

Senior sums it up best: “It’s going to be joy…not a lotta peace.”

Here’s to SSSr getting a piece of Mitchell!

THE GOOD

The Ravens will be in position to win the game late.

THE BAD

A James Harrison strip sack is the game’s key play as Ravens fans lament the fact that the Ravens could have signed this guy 3 years ago.

THE UGLY

While trailing 23-17 at the two-minute mark and in position to steal a 24-23 win, a costly turnover flips the game upside down for the Ravens. The Christmas smiles on the faces of fans in Charm City do the same.

THE MEGAN FOX

Terrance West has another solid effort with 100+ yards from scrimmage in a losing effort, outpacing the more heralded Le’Veon Bell.

PREDICTION

Pennsyltucky 30, Ravens 17

Brian Bower

I’m not as comfortable with this as I was earlier this season when the two rivals met at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. We truly never know which Ravens team will show up, particularly on offense. While the match up for Joe Flacco and company is decent, he and Marty must stay on the same page. Flacco will find pay dirt on two throws – one to Breshad Perriman and the other to Darren Waller – while tossing for a mere 190 yards.

The run game amasses over 100 yards on the afternoon with Terrance West scoring one rushing touchdown.

Dean Pees’ defense will face their biggest challenge of the year without perhaps their best defensive player in Jimmy Smith. Corralling Big Ben and the Steelers high flying offense won’t be easy. Ben throws for over 400 yards including two touchdowns to Antonio Brown and another to Le’Veon Bell.

Bell adds another score on the ground and the Ravens allow Bell to rush for 150 yards.

The Grinches 34, Ravens 27

Kyle Rate

To state the obvious, this game is enormous. There couldn’t be more on the line: if the Ravens lose they’re almost surely out of the playoffs. I think we show up and play well. The defense keys on the big name players and Brown and Bell combine for just 150 total yards. We record 3 sacks on Big Ben and Tavon Young grabs an interception. But Eli Rogers has a two-touchdown day and the Steelers offense gets the big plays they often rely on.

I don’t really buy the hype on Pittsburgh’s improving defense, as I think their secondary has considerable holes. But the Ravens will struggle to run the ball and Marty Mornhinweg will bail on the run game far too early as usual. Joe scrambles for a touchdown and tosses another to Dennis Pitta, but otherwise Flacco struggles to convert many third downs and the offense doesn’t really click until it’s too late.

Steelers win 27-24.

Derek Arnold

There are children walking around (yes, walking – they’re over two years old now) who don’t know a world where the Steelers beat the Ravens. This will be a tall order without Jimmy Smith, for sure. Yet, I sense some Christmas Magic in the air.

The offense does their usual “look, we’re going to be awesome today!” opening drive to take a 7-0 lead. They extend it to 14-3 before their usual lull in the middle quarters. The jolly old fat man (no, not Santa – Ben Roethlisberger) delivers touchdowns to Brown & Bell (even though they’re on the NFL’s “Naughty” List) as Pittsburgh comes back to take a 20-17 fourth-quarter lead.

Breshad Perriman cements his name in Baltimore sports lore with a 30-yard catch-and-run touchdown just when it looks like the Ravens are happy to play for the tying field goal and overtime.

Ravens 24 Steelers 20

Joe Polek

This game could all come down to the Ravens defense. If they play as they have the last two weeks, there is no chance they win on Christmas. But if Jimmy Smith can play, and the Ravens can stop Bell, then they have a much better chance to win.

Pittsburgh’s offense is ranked 7th in the NFL, 5th in passing and 11th in rushing.

Baltimore’s defense has fallen to 5th in the NFL, 10th against the pass and 2nd against the run.

As of now, it’s going to be pretty mild in the Steel City on Sunday afternoon with temperatures expected to be around 50 degrees with possible showers.

The Ravens haven’t won on the road since September. I’m not sure how I see the Ravens winning this game, not with what I’ve seen on the field the last couple of weeks. I think Bell runs over the Ravens D and Big Ben throws darts across all sides of the field. Flacco starts slow and can’t recover in the second half. As much as I want a Ravens win…

Steelers win 27-17.

Ryan Jones

The Ravens have dominated the Steelers the last couple of years. Mike Tomlin has melted down and made poor decisions, Big Ben hasn’t played well, and the Ravens have been able to contain both Brown and Bell. Keeping that streak of succes alive could prove tough on Christmas.

The Ravens vaunted run defense has looked vulnerable the last two weeks, especially this past Sunday against the Eagles. Philadelphia’s offense was one dimensional and everyone knew they were going to continue to run the ball but for whatever reason the Ravens couldn’t stop it. That’s concerning.

This team has also shown some signs that it’s on the verge of falling apart emotionally. Steve Smith had a tirade during practice last week and Mike Wallace had his own mid-game against Philly. John Harbaugh wasn’t hesitant to throw his offensive coordinator under the bus and Flacco’s response to the same situation came across as selfish. This team seems edgy, and not really in a good way. Maybe they can channel that into positive aggression against the Steelers but I’ll believe it when it happens.

Flacco throws an early interception and the Ravens fall behind early. Chris Moore returns a kick for a touchdown before the half to build some momentum but ultimately the Ravens can’t keep up with Pittsburgh offensively.

Steelers 30
Ravens 20

Ken McKusick

I’ve been eagerly watching the injury report all week and I think this game will depend on the presence of 2 key players, Ravens CB Jimmy Smith and Steelers DE Stephon Tuitt. Neither practiced on Wednesday.

We all know how the Ravens depth is stretched at CB when the absence of Smith forces an increased role from Wright and Powers.

Tuitt has been effective this season and the Steelers have leaned on him heavily since their best DLman, Cam Heyward went down with a season-ending injury. The Steelers depth on the DL is unimpressive to say the least and the Ravens need to stay out of 3-receiver sets, which will allow the Steelers the relative comfort of the nickel (and 1 less DLman).

Looking at snaps by DLman by game for weeks 12-14 (Tuitt was injured in week 15):

Week 12 (of 66): Tuitt 51, Matthews 20, Hargrave 41, McCullers 16, Walton 12
Week 13 (of 63): Tuitt 59, Matthews 25, Hargrave 46, McCullers 11, Walton 14
Week 14 (of 60): Tuitt 58, Matthews 42, Hargrave 12, McCullers 6

The Steelers have always concentrated their DL snaps into just a few players, but even Haloti Ngata topped out at 76% of snaps in his prime for the Ravens. Tuitt had played 89% of the Steelers snaps in weeks 12-14. By staying in 2-back sets with at least 1 TE or single back sets with at least 2 TEs, the Ravens will force the Steelers to play more 4 DB sets (with 3 defensive linemen). In turn, some run success should serve to open up the play action game and some long drives will tire Pittsburgh’s most vulnerable players. The Ravens were wholly ineffective running the ball when the teams last met, but that can’t deter them from attacking the Steelers’ greatest weakness.

I won’t predict based on Smith’s availability, since it seems so unlikely. However, I will make a conditional prediction:

If the Steelers are without Tuitt, I say Ravens 19-16 with the Ravens controlling the clock.

If the Steelers have Tuitt, I say 27-20 Steelers as their offensive firepower is brought to bear and the Ravens can’t keep up on the road.

Tyler Lombardi

On paper, the Steelers’ strengths match up well with the Ravens’ weaknesses.

But that’s been the case for a long time, and we haven’t seen it come to fruition for a few years. I predict more of the same this week. Roethlisberger will be held to under 200 yards of passing until deep into the fourth quarter, when the Steelers will make it a game and move within 3 points.

Fortunately, a Joe Flacco bomb to Breshad Perriman will close the door just outside the two-minute warning and Ravens fans will forget how much they were complaining about the “dumbest call in history” last week.

Ravens win 27-24, but the score is only that close because of a Steeler touchdown inside of :30 left to go.

Brian McFarland

The Ravens have had great success against the Steelers recently, but without (likely) Jimmy Smith, I think winning this one is going to be a tall order. The Ravens are going to have to get their offense going and score points against what appears to be a much improved Steeler D. That would be great to see, but the offense putting up points has been a rarity this season.

Heart says: Ravens 24 Steelers 20
Head says: Steelers 30 Ravens 20

Interestingly enough, if both teams make the playoffs, this game is likely to be repeated in 2 weeks during the wild card round (be it in Pittsburgh or Baltimore).

Mike Fast

I believe Mike Wallace and Eric Weddle will be the most important players for the Ravens on Sunday. Both are capable of taking a game over in dominant, rapid fashion. As for the Steelers, James Harrison is likely to cause havoc, even though Ronnie Stanley has been playing well recently.

Contrary to the common narrative, the Ravens have had the upper hand in this series as of late. Many people will tell you what the Ravens need to do to beat the Steelers, but they might be forgetting that just because the Steelers have been playing well doesn’t mean they get to begin Sunday’s game with a head start. The Steelers need to deal with the Ravens, too.

Here’s how I see each team stacking up against each other:

Quarterback: Steelers
Running backs: Steelers
Offensive line: Steelers
Wide receivers: Ravens
Tight ends: Ravens
Defensive line: Ravens
Linebackers: even
Cornerbacks: even
Safeties: Ravens
Kicker: Ravens
Punter: Ravens
Return specialists: Steelers
Coaching: even

If the Ravens can limit their penalties, I think they move the ball well enough to out-score the Steelers. If the Steelers can get substantial yards after contact/catch, I think they will blow the Ravens out.

I have to imagine that the veteran presence of Marshal Yanda, Terrell Suggs, and Eric Weddle will be enough to keep Baltimore focused despite a raucous crowd and a formidable Steelers game plan.

Prediction: Ravens 27, Steelers 23

Adam Bonaccorsi

Be prepared for a Merry Christmas, Ravens fans.

The Ravens defense will return to its stout run stuffing form, holding Bell to under 75 yards on the ground. The Jimmy-less pass D however…no so great. 3 pass TDs for Big Ben will expose Shareece Wright once again, and fans will fret.

Joe Flacco and the offense will thrive on check downs as always BUT Clock management via run game and intermediate passes will result in 3 TD’s of their own (West rush TD, Wallace and Waller pass TDs).

Justin Tucker will clinch a victory with a FG in the final 2 minutes of the game, while Eric Weddle (tops Santa for best beard in December) seals the W with a game ending pick.

BAL-27
PIT- 24

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