The night playoff game on Saturday features AFC North rivals as the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field.
They say familiarity breeds contempt. These two teams not only play each other twice a year, they traded 20-point blowouts in those meetings this year. After CBS aired a video of Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh trash-talking the Steelers in November, fuel was added to the fire.
Which team will come out victorious Saturday night? Let’s break it down with five things to look for.
- Bell is out: The Steelers announced today that Le’Veon Bell was ruled out for Saturday’s game due to a knee injury he suffered last week against Cincinnati. He has accounted for 77.7 percent of the team’s rushing yards this season, which leaves Pittsburgh to depend on backup Dri Archer.
- Expect a defensive battle: Despite what happened on November 2 when Pittsburgh scored 43 on Baltimore, don’t look for a high-scoring contest when the Ravens and Steelers get together. The Ravens have allowed the sixth-fewest points in the NFL, while the Steelers held the Chiefs and Bengals under 20 to close out the regular season. Baltimore only allows 88 rushing yards per game, fourth-best in the league, to make up for a spotty secondary that allows just under 250 passing yards a contest. Similar to their purple-clad counterparts, Pittsburgh’s banged-up secondary allowed about 254 yards in the air this year, but only allowed 100 yards a game on the ground.
- Flacco’s playoff success: Baltimore is in good hands in the playoffs with Joe Flacco under center, especially in the opening weekend of the playoffs. Flacco has never lost a wild-card game, with a 3-0 record on the road. According to ESPN, his total QBR (ESPN’s quarterback rating formula) is about 17 points better in the playoffs. One thing Steelers fans will surely point out, however: Flacco is 0-2 against the black and yellow.
- Ben playing big: Flacco’s counterpart, Ben Roethlisberger, is playing the best football of his career. He has thrown for over 300 yards in four of the last five games, including a 435-yard performance against New Orleans, to lead the Steelers to a 4-1 record over that span. In the November thrashing of Baltimore, he matched a six-TD game against Indianapolis the week before, setting the NFL record for the most touchdown passes in a two-game span with 12. While wide receiver Antonio Brown deserves a lot of credit for his monster year, Ben’s accuracy and consistency have only been matched by Aaron Rodgers this year.
- Home field advantage: The home team has won the last four games in this rivalry, along with the last two playoff matchups. This one is in Steeler Country, where Pittsburgh is 6-2 this year.
- The Prediction: Even with Bell out, Pittsburgh has the edge thanks to Roethlisberger, Brown and home field. 17-6 Steelers