Steelers vs. Ravens Expert Pick – January 6, 2024
STEELERS VS. RAVENS EXPERT PICK – JANUARY 6, 2024 – The Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7) head south to Baltimore to take on a Ravens (13-3) team that already clinched the #1 seed in the AFC. The Steelers must defeat their bitter rivals and get some help to make the playoffs.
(9-7 SU, 9-7 ATS)
(13-3 SU, 11-5 ATS)
When: Saturday, January 6, 2023, at 4:30 PM ET
Where: M&T Stadium in Baltimore, MD
End of the Road
The Steelers need a little help from their “friends” to have a chance to make the playoffs. The Ravens are resting Lamar Jackson and other key players as they have locked in the top-seed and the BYE going into the AFC Playoffs.
The Steelers need a victory and either a Jacksonville Jaguars or Buffalo Bills loss to make the playoffs. (There is a crazy scenario if they lose and another involving a tie-game that would take too much energy to explain)!
Coach Mike Tomlin is riding the hot hand with Mason Rudolph earning his third consecutive start since coming in for Kenny Pickett after he suffered an ankle injury.
Pickett has been cleared to play and will be a backup to Rudolph after being inactive last week. Pickett’s status last week was a controversial topic for the local media with conflicting reports about the decision for him to not play last week.
“I saw reports that I feel were attacking, you know, my character and how I am as a person, not even getting to a player’s standpoint of it,” Pickett told reporters. “There was no talk of me being a backup quarterback this week in terms of being a two. If I was healthy enough to play, the trainers and coaches felt like I was good enough to play, I was going to start and play. If they believed I was not, which they believed I was not, I was not going to dress and suit up for the game. So, whoever reported that, (I) don’t know where it started, it’s kind of crazy what people would write and put out there. To try to prove their point or help their standpoint or their careers — and what you guys do.”
Rudolph transformed this once stagnant offense into, dare we say, an offensive juggernaut! Okay, perspective is key as the Steelers averaged 17.8 points per game this season and scored over 30 points in the last two games with Rudolph under center.
George Pickens has 326 receiving yards over the past two weeks averaging 29.6 yards per catch. He torched the Ravens in the first meeting for 130 yards and a touchdown.
Make no mistake about it, the catalyst for this offense is the running game featuring Jaylen Warren and Najee Harris. This duo has combined for 329 carries for 1,514 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Steelers will also be bolstered by the return of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and ILB Elandon Roberts. They both monitor the middle of the field and relay the communication from the sidelines to their teammates.
The defense gave up chunk plays last week to the Seattle Seahawks with DK Metcalf going over 100 yards receiving. This embattled unit may be healing up at the right time to combat these issues.
Rest vs. Rust
The Ravens decision to rest Jackson and other key players was not taken lightly with coach John Harbaugh and his staff. This same plan backfired on them before the 2019 playoffs when they were the #1 seed and lost their first playoff game.
“You just kind of consider all things. There’s not really any one thing that goes into it,” Harbaugh said. “Just all things considered, it seemed to be the right thing to do. You have conversations with Lamar [Jackson] and others, and you make the decision.”
Tyler Huntley got the start against the Steelers in week 17 last season throwing for 130 yards with a touchdown and interception. Huntley has only thrown nine passes this season and hopes to improve on his performance from last year.
The defense for the Ravens will be down cornerback Marlon Humphrey (groin), linebacker Malik Harrison (groin), and defensive back Daryl Worley (shoulder/ankle). Other key members, such as safety Kyle Hamilton, will see limited or no time in this game.
History may provide a cautionary tale for any bettors thinking the Steelers are a lock to win this game. You may want to hold off on the money line play this week.
The game where Harbaugh decided to rest his starters in 2019 ended in a 28-10 victory over a Steelers team needing the victory to make the playoffs. Sound familiar?
The Steelers are only favored to win by -3.5 as the oddsmakers understand this could still be a dogfight. Expect the Ravens to keep it close by limiting the splash plays in the passing game.
In the long run it won’t be enough as Harris and Warren will exploit Baltimore’s defensive line and open the offense in the second half for a 27-13 victory.
So, I guess you can take that money line!