Late for Work 12/3: What Pundits Are Expecting in Ravens-Steelers Matchup

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OLB Tyus Bowser

Majority of Pundits Are Picking Ravens Over Steelers

When the Ravens travel to Pittsburgh's Heinz Field on Sunday, they'll be looking to retain their hold on the No. 1 seed in the AFC, while the Steelers will be looking to keep their diminishing playoff hopes alive.

The Ravens (8-3), who are favored by 4.5 points —the first time they've been favored in Pittsburgh against Ben Roethlisberger — appear to be catching the Steelers at the right time.

After winning four straight games to improve to 5-3, the Steelers have gone 0-2-1 in their past three games. They tied the winless Detroit Lions in Week 10, lost a shootout to the Los Angeles Chargers the following week, and got blown out by the Cincinnati Bengals last week.

On the other hand, a desperate team is a dangerous team. Plus, it's the Ravens and Steelers, which is arguably the best rivalry in the NFL, so you can probably throw the records out the proverbial window.

That said, the pundits like the Ravens' chances in Pittsburgh. Thirty-nine of the 44 pundits we looked at picked Baltimore.

Here's a sample of what the pundits are saying about the game:

The Ravens will show they're clearly the better team on both sides of the ball.

NBC Sports' Chris Simms: "Steelers aren't going to be able to run the ball on Baltimore. And with the inability to run, of course I don't trust Ben Roethlisberger in the pass game right now. They're not schematically creative enough. … And the Steelers defense is just not good. I don't think I can overemphasize the absolute [butt]-whooping the Steelers received last week by the Cincinnati Bengals."

NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal: "Pittsburgh's defensive struggles to stop the run and cover outside receivers deep down the field figure to be a deadly combination against the Ravens. (In other news, Ben Roethlisberger is the lowest-graded non-Jets quarterback among all qualifiers in Pro Football Focus' grading.)"

The Ravens will win another close game.

Sporting News' Vinnie Iyer: "The Steelers will keep it close with their quick passing game and tough running from Najee Harris, but the Ravens will grind another one away with Justin Tucker kicking home the game winner."

This is a good opportunity for Lamar Jackson to have a bounce-back game.

The New York Times' Emmanuel Morgan: "After throwing four interceptions last week and having missed his Week 11 start with an illness, Lamar Jackson remarked that he was 'getting back in the lab.' That should concern the Steelers (5-5-1), whose defense remains exploitable in the continued absence of T.J. Watt (Covid-19)."

A balanced offense is the key to a Ravensvictory.

CBS Sports' Bryan DeArdo: "The Steelers can have success if the Ravens rely too much on Jackson, [Marquise] Brown and [Mark] Andrews to make most of the plays. Conversely, a balanced attack would likely expose the Steelers' holes at cornerback, inside linebacker and on the defensive line."

DB Brandon Stephens vs. Steelers TE Pat Freiermuth is a key matchup.

Russell Street Report's James Ogden: "Both young players have shown promise and Freiermuth has given Roethlisberger a safety net he hasn't had since Heath Miller, but this will be an interesting test of how far both have come. Stephens in particular, who of course won't be lined up and asked to cover the tight end all through the game, will need to be fundamentally sound in the angles he takes and come up and tackle Pittsburgh receivers after the catch at regular intervals. He has the makings of being a useful part of the Baltimore secondary for years to come and so they will likely face off a lot over the coming years. This first matchup might set the tone."

The Steelers desperately need to win this game — and they will.

CBS Sports' John Breech: "I do not like to pick against desperate teams, especially when they're playing at home against a division rival. The Steelers are one of only two teams in the NFL that Lamar Jackson doesn't have a winning record against — he's 1-1 — and I don't think that's going to change after this week."

CBS Sports' Pete Prisco: "This has become a great rivalry known for physical play, but the Steelers have hardly looked physical the past two weeks. They are struggling in a big way, while the Ravens are coming off a tough home victory over Cleveland. Even so, the Ravens offense isn't good right now. The Steelers will find a way to win this late playing in a survival game."

NFL Network's Marc Sessler: "The Steelers appear cooked, but they're also a desperate operation clinging to life under an agitated coach in Mike Tomlin. They know the Ravens better than anyone. Baltimore is no gem, either, handing the ball away nine times over the past four games. … The Steelers won't appreciate being labeled as 'dogs at home against a hated foe. Expect them to come out with a fevered look in the eye."

Table inside Article
Pundits Picks Comments
ESPN 7 of 9 panelists pick Ravens NA
USA Today 7 of 7 panelists pick Ravens NA
NFL.com Ravens 30, Steelers 20 “Pittsburgh's defensive struggles to stop the run and cover outside receivers deep down the field figure to be a deadly combination against the Ravens. (In other news, Ben Roethlisberger is the lowest-graded non-Jets quarterback among all qualifiers in Pro Football Focus' grading.)” — Gregg Rosenthal
NFL Network 9 of 10 panelists pick Ravens NA
Sporting News Ravens 23, Steelers 20 “The Steelers will keep it close with their quick passing game and tough running from Najee Harris, but the Ravens will grind another one away with Justin Tucker kicking home the game winner.” — Vinnie Iyer
CBS Sports 6 of 8 panelists pick Ravens “At 5-5-1, the Steelers season basically hangs in the balance this week. If they lose, they're definitely not winning the AFC North and they're likely not making the playoffs. I do not like to pick against desperate teams, especially when they're playing at home against a division rival.” — John Breech
Pro Football Talk 3 of 3 panelists pick Ravens “The Ravens are heading toward the No. 1 seed in the AFC and the Steelers are heading toward last place in the AFC North.” — Michael David Smith
Sports Illustrated 5 of 5 panelists pick Ravens NA

Could Patrick Mekari Be Ravens' Long-Term Starter at Right Tackle?

The plan coming into the season was not for Patrick Mekari to be starting at right tackle. But when All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley went down in Week 1, the Ravens moved Alejandro Villaneuva to the left side and inserted the versatile Mekari on the right side.

With the way Mekari has played, the Ravens may have found their right tackle for years to come, Ebony Bird's Justin Fried wrote.

It's a surprising development considering Mekari, ended last season as the Ravens' starting center and has started at right guard, but had never started a game in the NFL at right tackle before this season.

"Mekari ranks third among all right tackles in pass-block win rate and is above-average as a run blocker too," Fried wrote. "He's been an above-average starting right tackle in 2021. And at just 24-years-old, there's no reason why Mekari can't be a part of the Ravens' future plans."

Mekari will be a free agent after this season. His performance thus far will likely give the Ravens' front office plenty to think about regarding the offensive line in the offseason.

Stanley, who underwent season-ending ankle surgery in October, said last month that he is "really confident" he can return next season. Villanueva is under contract for 2022, as is offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James, who has been on injured reserve all season after tearing his Achilles while training in May.

"But it's getting hard to ignore Patrick Mekari," Fried wrote. "And by the end of the year, we might be talking about him as the team's unexpected long-term solution at right tackle."

Ravens Getting Bang for Their Buck at Outside Linebacker

After Pro Bowl edge defenders Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue left the Ravens in the offseason to sign lucrative deals with the New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders, respectively, it was fair to question how Baltimore would be able to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

The answer was to re-sign Tyus Bowser, sign veteran free agent Justin Houston and draft Odafe Oweh. Thanks to this trio, the Ravens are getting bang for their buck at outside linebacker.

"Their inexpensive revamped outside linebacker depth chart has been one of the main catalysts for their success thus far," Baltimore Beatdown's Joshua Reed wrote. "While both Judon and Ngakoue have base salaries of just $1 million in the first year of their new deals, they carry cap hits of $6.32 and $5 million respectively, whereas the combined cap hit of top three edge defenders in 2021 is just $7.137 million with a combined base salary of $2.735 million."

Bowser has emerged as one of the best all-around players at his position; Houston leads the team in quarterback hits; and Oweh has shown a knack for making game-changing plays.

"The Ravens essentially had to choose between keeping Bowser or Judon this offseason and opted to keep the better scheme fit with upside at a significantly discounted rate to what it would've cost to keep the two-time Pro Bowler in town," Reed wrote. "Houston has recorded four sacks, leads the team in quarterback hits with 16, has logged 22 pressures, and is only making a base salary of $1.075 million with a cap hit of just $2.075 million.

"Oweh is making only $660,000 in base salary with a cap hit of only $2.062 million this year but his consistent and clutch playmaking ability in the team's biggest games this season has been priceless."

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