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John J. Raspanti
Will Ben Roethlisberger play? That's the main question leading into Sunday's rematch between the Baltimore Ravens (9-2) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. A win by the home team clinches a playoff spot -- and perhaps the AFC North title if they can beat the Steelers for the second time in three weeks. The Ravens were lucky to get past San Diego last weekend 16-13.
Roethlisberger injured his rib and shoulder three weeks ago in Kansas City. He was limited in practice on Wednesday. With the Steelers playoff hopes hinging on a victory, it seems likely that Roethlisberger will try to play.
If he can't go, 15-year veteran Charlie Batch will start.
"We have to figure out what we need to do," Batch said. "In order for us to get to where we want to get to, we have to start winning."
The Steelers offense turned the ball over eight times in a nightmarish 20-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns last weekend. Wide receiver Antonio Brown is hopeful that his return (from an ankle injury) will give his team a boost.
"Hopefully, I can help bring back some order to this team," said Brown.
Pittsburgh's running game has virtually disappeared. Jonathon Dwyer, who gained 55 yards against the Ravens two weeks ago, will get the start.
During the Ravens four-game winning streak, the injury-plagued defense has bounced back and played sound football. The unit lost linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Ladarius Webb to season ending injuries four weeks ago. Since giving up 43 points to the Texans, the defense has allowed an average of 14.4 points per game during their four-game winning streak.
"We are improving on defense, and we improved throughout the course of the game," said coach John Harbaugh.
Baltimore's offense has done just enough to contribute to the teams' recent winning streak. Running back Ray Rice rushed for 97 yards against the Chargers. Quarterback Joe Flacco has completed 60 percent of his passes. At M&T Bank Stadium, Flacco has put up some of his best numbers. The Ravens have also won 15 straight regular season games.
The Steelers defense could see safety Troy Polamalu on the field for the first time since he suffered a calf injury in Week 5.
The yards per point stat truly is a fool proof stat which is why we love using it. It doesn't necessarily tell the whole story in all cases, but it does paint a full picture of a team as a whole. Here is what we mean by that. Take the Steelers defense. Ok, it's pretty good. How then, do they have a defensive yards per point number of 13.5 which places them among the worst in the league? How about turning the ball over in your own end and giving up points as a result? That's one way. Opponents haven't had to travel as far to put a point on the board against the Steelers. Either way, it's a reflection on the team as a whole. A sloppy team that simply hasn't been able to put it together this year.
The Ravens defensive number of 18 an change, on the other hand, puts them among the best in the NFL. Yet they are 26th against the run and 23rd against the pass. But when looking at points allowed, they are 7th in the NFL. That's a good indication that this team has a bit if a bend but don't break defense that's pretty good in the red zone.
However the numbers got to be, is kind of irrelevant. What they do tell us, is that the Ravens have the better football team this year and will likely come out on top, at home, in this one against the hated Steelers and that's with or without Big Ben. Unfortunately, due to the status of Big Ben, there are no lines posted on this game. But 6 of the last 8 in this series have been decided by a field goal. With Big Ben the Ravens will likely be a field goal favorite. Without, you're looking at 6 or 7. We'd take the Ravens here at -3 or better.