Slight Majority of Pundits Predict a Baltimore Victory
Last week, the Ravens clinched a playoff berth. This week, they might have an opportunity to eliminate the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers from playoff contention. Moreover, they also can ensure the Steelers experience their first losing season in Mike Tomlin's 16 years as head coach.
A slight majority of the pundits we looked at (26 of 47) are predicting a victory for the Ravens (10-5) when they host the Steelers (7-8) on Sunday night.
The consensus is that it will be another low-scoring slugfest between the AFC North foes, much like it was three weeks ago in Pittsburgh when the Ravens grinded out a 16-14 victory.
The Ravens, who trail the first-place Cincinnati Bengals by a game in the division, are likely to be without Lamar Jackson (knee) again. Tyler Huntley has gone 2-1 as a starter in Jackson's absence.
The Steelers, who have won five of their past seven games after a 2-6 start, would be eliminated from the playoff race prior to taking the field at M&T Bank Stadium if the Miami Dolphins defeat the Patriots in New England Sunday afternoon.
Here's what the pundits are saying about Sunday night's game:
The Ravens again willridetheir running game and Roquan Smith-led defense to victory.
The Athletic's Vic Tafur: "It was a nice moment for the Steelers, getting the last-minute win over the Raiders to honor the late Franco Harris at home on a blustery Christmas Eve. … The Ravens are a much different animal than the Raiders and their defense is peaking. Since joining the Ravens in Week 9, Roquan Smith ranks second among linebackers in splash plays (29). (Splash plays are defined as sacks, TFLs, pressures leading to throwaways, stuffs for no gain, interceptions, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, pass breakups, stops on third and fourth downs.) Smith ranks first in snaps per splash play (13.2) among 51 qualified linebackers who have played 350 or more defensive snaps since Week 9. The Ravens won't need Lamar Jackson back to beat the Steelers."
Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer: "The Ravens are in full grinding-out victory mode with Tyler Huntley, their run-heavy offense and their stingy defense. That puts them in good position against the Steelers after they won in Pittsburgh 16-14 in Week 14."
CBS Sports’ Brady Quinn: "Tyler Huntley's most likely going to start. … That being said, they can still run the football, they're extremely physical offensively. Huntley can do enough in the passing game, making some plays to guys like Mark Andrews to be able to get enough to win this one."
The Baltimore Sun’s Ryan McFadden: "The Steelers are fighting for a playoff spot against a longtime rival in prime-time, so it's hard for me to see Pittsburgh allowing 200-plus rushing yards like it did in the previous matchup. But the Ravens' defense will continue to play at a high level and allow the offense to make enough plays to pull out a win."
Sports Illustrated’s Todd Karpovich: "The Ravens managed to edge the Steelers on the road in the first meeting by playing solid defense and running the football. They'll stick to the script in the rematch."
The Steelers will find a way to win a hard-fought contest.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec: "The Ravens already beat the Steelers once with Tyler Huntley, so it surely could happen again. But are the Steelers really going to allow the Ravens to rush for 200-plus yards again? Will the Steelers throw three interceptions in the red zone again? I doubt it. I think the Steelers win."
The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker: "There's not much separating these teams. We know the game will be close. We know it will be low scoring. The Ravens ran at will in Pittsburgh and picked off [Mitch] Trubisky three times. They can't count on repeating the same formula against a rival that's fighting to stay alive."
NBC Sports’ Chris Simms: "I think the Steelers match up well with the Ravens. … I was shocked the first time around that the Ravens ran the ball like that on the Steelers; I gotta think the Steelers are going to make some adjustments to their game plans."
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio: "I won't give up on the Steelers until they're mathematically eliminated. Even then, I'd still find a way to believe in them."
Neither team wins.
USA Today’s Richard Morin: "Baltimore knows it will be playing postseason football this year, but it's the Steelers with something to play for here. Mike Tomlin will do everything in his power to ensure Pittsburgh doesn't finish with a losing record. This one ends in a tie."
The Ravens should be able to pressure quarterback Kenny Pickett, and that will be one of the keys to victory for them.
Pro Football Network’s Tommy Garrett: "If the Steelers don't turn the ball over and can find success with [running back] Najee Harris, they have a solid shot to walk away with a victory and move to .500 heading into the final week. However, the Steelers offensive line has been a liability all season, and Pickett will likely be running out of time before he goes through his progressions. It certainly won't be a blowout, but the Ravens move into Week 18 with their 11th victory."
Bold prediction: The Steelers hold the Ravens to fewer than 100 rushing yards.
ESPN’s Brooke Pryor: "In their Week 14 meeting, the Ravens ran all over the Steelers, led by J.K. Dobbins' 120 yards. Since then, the Steelers' run defense mostly clamped down on prolific ground attacks. They held the Panthers to 21 rushing yards and the Raiders -- including league-leading rusher Josh Jacobs -- to just 58."
|ESPN||4 of 7 panelists pick Ravens|
|Baltimore Sun||3 of 5 panelists pick Steelers||“There’s not much separating these teams. We know the game will be close. We know it will be low scoring. The Ravens ran at will in Pittsburgh and picked off [Mitch] Trubisky three times. They can’t count on repeating the same formula against a rival that’s fighting to stay alive.”— Childs Walker|
|USA Today||4 of 6 panelists pick Ravens|
|NFL.com||Steelers 16, Ravens 14||“It's another prime-time game that won't have many points. These are the top two rush defenses in the second half of the season, but I trust Pittsburgh to generate yards more consistently if Baltimore starts Tyler Huntley again. The Steelers probably won’t get enough help to make the playoffs, but they are playing better than the rest of the No. 7 contenders.” — Gregg Rosenthal|
|NFL Network||7 of 10 panelists pick Ravens|
|Sporting News||Ravens 20, Steelers 17||“The Ravens are in full grinding-out victory mode with Tyler Huntley, their run-heavy offense and their stingy defense. That puts them in good position against the Steelers after they won in Pittsburgh 16-14 in Week 14. The Steelers will make it tight with their own defense and Kenny Pickett being game for a gritty duel.” — Vinnie Iyer|
|CBS Sports||6 of 8 panelists pick Steelers||“The Steelers are still alive, but barely, while the Ravens are pushing for the division title. Baltimore still isn't doing a lot on offense, but the defense is playing well. The Steelers beat the Raiders on a last-minute touchdown to keep their hopes alive. This will be a low-scoring defensive game with the Ravens winning it late.” — Pete Prisco|
|Pro Football Talk||2 of 3 panelists pick Steelers||“I won’t give up on the Steelers until they’re mathematically eliminated. Even then, I’d still find a way to believe in them.” — Mike Florio|
|Sports Illustrated||4 of 5 panelists pick Ravens|
|Fansided||Ravens 19, Steelers 17||“Let’s all embrace what’s about to happen. The Ravens and Steelers will combine to punt 25 times while rushing 60 times. Accept it.” — Matt Verderame|
Should Ravens Keep Lamar Jackson Out Until the Playoffs?
If Jackson is available next week in the season finale against Cincinnati, should the Ravens play him even if he's not 100 percent? Or would it be better to keep him out until the playoffs begin? The Athletic's AFC North writers debated the topic.
Zrebiec is in favor of Jackson playing as soon as possible.
"I'm of the opinion that if Jackson can defend himself and move around reasonably well, the Ravens should play him," Zrebiec wrote. "It's been quite obvious over the past four weeks that the Ravens aren't going anywhere without Jackson. But you know what other scenario portends a very short playoff stay for Baltimore? Entering the postseason with little offensive rhythm or momentum (which is where it's at now) and having to lean heavily on a quarterback who won't have taken a live game rep in six weeks.
"This isn't only about trying to win the division, which the Ravens would do with victories in their final two regular-season games, and getting the best possible playoff seeding. It's about carrying some momentum into the playoffs and giving yourself the best chance to make a run. Jackson is a special player, but expecting him to be at or near top form in the playoffs after essentially missing the final six regular-season games would be asking an awful lot."
Zac Jackson and Jay Morrison believe Jackson should return for the Bengals game if healthy.
"Jackson should play next week if he's ready to play," Jackson wrote. "I'd absolutely want a warmup week for the playoffs regardless of what's actually going to be at stake in Week 18. Jackson has to get some work with that JV receiving crew the Ravens have, and as soon as he's cleared I'd have him out there."
Morrison wrote: "Given this week's opponent is the Steelers and history — not to mention Matt Canada's offense — suggests it's not going to take a lot of points to win, I'd hold him out one more week. The Ravens are still favored to win even without Jackson, and the Bengals are underdogs, so there's a pretty good chance the division will come down to that Week 18 Ravens-Bengals game anyway."
Mark Kaboly took the opposing viewpoint.
"If everything is equal, I'd sit Jackson until it is absolutely necessary to put him out there," Kaboly wrote. "Who cares if you win a Week 17 or 18 game? Winning in the postseason is all you are judged on. We might just be overthinking it a little too much. Don't play him until the playoffs."