Thursday, January 1, 2015

NFL Predictions 2015 Wild Card Playoffs: Ravens Vs Steelers

Baltimore Ravens Vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: PIT -3 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

When it comes to the Ravens and the Steelers, it's pretty much become the norm to just assign the home team as the -3 point favorites and be done with it.  This time around, two out of every three bets are siding with the home team, and I'm about to join them.  I even think we could see a move off the -3 to -3.5 by kickoff.  We've already seen a slight adjustment with the juice.

Bottom Line

Before I dug into the research for this game, my first instinct was to take the dog. The Ravens have been the better balanced team all year, and that usually bodes well when going up against a boom-or-bust team.

Yet, when we take a closer look some things stick out in Pittsburgh's favor.

Baltimore is 1-6 against teams with a winning record this year. In contrast, the Steelers are 6-1 against winning teams. And head-to-head, Flacco is 4-8 straight up when facing Big Ben.

Offensively, Baltimore should have the advantage when they take the field, but they've had a hard time converting drives into TDs all season long, and they struggled badly on third down in December. That might not matter since Pittsburgh's D isn't exactly good in those situation either, but they did improve inside their own 20 in December. Their rush defense also climbed from 21st in the first half of the year to 12th in the second half.  Overall, I still expect the Ravens to have some success, but I'm not sure it's going to be enough to compensate for their defense.

And that's really where I expect this game to be won. The Ravens rush defense improved as the season went on, and Bell is officially out of this game, but I'm not sure any of that will matter.

Can the Ravens secondary stop Big Ben and this passing attack?  The secondary is running on fumes and they rely heavily on what the front seven does at the line of scrimmage. When Brown lines up in the slot, Baltimore basically has no answer for stopping him. Also, if Pittsburgh's OL can get good pass protection, the lack of a dynamic run game could be largely nullified. Bell wasn't much of a factor when Ben tore up the Ravens earlier in the year, either.

I think that mismatch, along with home field advantage, should be enough for Pittsburgh to win and cover this game.  I'll lay the points and ride the Steelers.

NFL Pick: PIT -3.

Read more: Wild Card Picks.