*This was originally published on White Cover Magazine…
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
First things first, I’m a-biased. Pittsburgh’s been my only ever one favourite team, and I hate Baltimore. But I’ll do my best to offer something close to an untainted perspective here, and you may even be surprised by my prediction at the bottom. (Don’t scroll all the way down just yet, please?)
- Funny how one play can change the plot so drastically, so emphatically. Le’Veon Bell is the most dangerous running back in the NFL still playing – Matt Forte’s Bears are losers and DeMarco Murray’s first eight weeks ended eight weeks ago. Bell’s ability to run, catch, and score has added a whole new dimension to the historically rush-dependant Steelers – he doesn’t just grab and ram like Jerome Bettis and he’s not just a speedy outside threat like Willie Parker was. Bell is both together and, when healthy, quite simply the greatest weapon on a surgical Steelers offence.
- But of course, Bell won’t be on the field today. And while you’ll hear that Pittsburgh’s passing game can equally make up for his absence, I’m afraid that’s a rather shallow, overly optimistic, fittingly steel-strong take. Sure, Big Ben has deep options in Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton, he has a reliable tight end in Heath Miller, and Antonio Brown is as dangerous in the open field as Bell is in the back one, but don’t forget just how important Bell was to the passing game as well as the rushing game.
- Bell had 854 receiving yards this season – a worthy stat on its own, a chart-topper when you add it to his 1,361 rushing yards. So he was second to only DeMarco in Dallas in all-purpose yards this season, and Bell alone was second behind Brown in Pittsburgh’s receiving attack. You’re telling me Ben won’t miss having him out there today?
- On the other side of scrimmage are the Ravens, Pittsburgh’s most-hated rival and foe that isn’t only sporadically potent but also dangerously familiar…
- Bell’s absence might mean less if Pittsburgh was facing a chump team today, but this game would have been close even with him healthy. The Ravens know everything the Steelers will bring, and each team plays the other tough no matter who’s the favourite.
- Joe Flacco (the 2013 Super Bowl MVP), Justin Forsett (, Steve Smith, and Torrey Smith are the ensemble cast on offence. That’s maybe not a lethal foursome, but it’s enough. Baltimore’s defence is exceptional but so is Pittsburgh’s – they cancel each other out.
- In Week 2, Baltimore beat Pittsburgh in every corner of the field, winning 26-6 in Maryland. But in Week 9, the Steelers beat the Ravens 43-23 in Pennsylvania and Ben threw for six touchdowns. So if you’re looking for conclusions from the season’s series, you won’t find any.
- Normally, when the result is a toss-up, I’d say that favours the underdogs. At least, it turns Vegas into a Bingo machine.
Prediction: Baltimore Ravens 21 – Pittsburgh Steelers 18