The 8-7 Steelers make the trip to Baltimore to face the 13-2 Ravens.
The Ravens prevailed in the first matchup, winning 26-23 in overtime in Pittsburgh. The game is commonly referred to as Lamar Jackson’s worst game as he tossed three interceptions and was forced to play from behind for a portion of the game. Jackson will not play Sunday, so Robert Griffin III will be left with the task of solving the Pittsburgh defense.
In the first matchup, Mason Rudolph was knocked out, and he was replaced by Devlin Hodges. Hodges led the offense to outscore the Ravens, but it was not enough to cover the hole that Rudolph had left Pittsburgh in. Hodges won his first couple of starts, but the wheels came off against the Bills, and the Steelers have lost two in a row at the hands of the Bills and the Jets. Despite being benched in Week 16, Hodges will yet again get the start because Rudolph was injured against the Jets.
With as bad as Hodges has been in recent weeks, it is likely not too much of a stretch to say that Griffin is better. Griffin has only played in garbage time, but he has led a handful of solid drives in those situations. The Steelers will be playing for their lives, but Griffin might end up having more success.
Should either starter be benched or removed, the backups are Trace McSorley (Baltimore) and Paxton Lynch (Pittsburgh).
Running the Ball:
James Conner has been ruled out, a move that will subject the Steelers to Benny Snell and Jaylen Samuels as the running options. Trey Edmunds and Kerrith Whyte could also feature for snaps at a time, but the Steelers have been generally inefficient on the ground. The Steelers rank 28th in yards per carry.
Baltimore’s two leading rushers (Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram) have been ruled out. The new ball-carriers will be Gus Edwards and Justice Hill. The Ravens need just 93 rushing yards to set the mark for most in NFL history, so there will likely be a steady dose of rush attempts, assuming the Steelers do not blow out the Ravens.
Gone are the days of Antonio Brown. The Steelers must rely on the likes of Diontae Johnson and James Washington to move the chains against Baltimore.
None of Baltimore’s wide receivers have been ruled out on Sunday, but it is unlikely that Marquise Brown and Willie Snead play the whole game. Baltimore will likely mix up the on-field receivers, so there is unlikely to be a dominant wide receiver or two. Baltimore’s leading receiver, tight end Mark Andrews, is unlikely to play, so the other tight ends will have to step up in their place.
In the Trenches:
Both teams will be without Pro Bowl offensive linemen as Maurkice Pouncey was hurt against the Jets, and the Ravens will be resting Ronnie Stanley and Marshal Yanda. The Ravens will have a tough time slowing down T.J. Watt with a weakened offensive line, but the Ravens should be overwhelmingly run-heavy, especially early in the game.
Minkah Fitzpatrick headlines the secondary group because Baltimore is again sitting out starters such as Earl Thomas. Fitzpatrick has been a game-changer for the Steelers, and he needs to have a good performance.
Despite sitting players across the offense and defense, I anticipate that the Ravens will do just enough to beat the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s offense has been hilariously bad this season, and Baltimore is too well-coached to allow Pittsburgh to walk into an easy win.
Spread: Ravens (+2)
Score: Ravens 20, Steelers 13
Over/Under: Under 37
The Ravens have already clinched the top spot in the AFC. On the other hand, Pittsburgh has lost control of their path to the playoffs. Some permutations could send the Steelers to the playoffs in a loss, but the easiest path is by beating the Ravens and having the Titans lose to the Texans. If the Titans win, the Steelers will be automatically eliminated from the playoffs much like 2018 when a Baltimore win knocked out Pittsburgh despite Pittsburgh’s win over Cincinnati.
Below are the official scenarios. Ties are highly unlikely, but they are ways for Pittsburgh to slip into the playoffs
Pittsburgh win + Tennessee loss/tie
Pittsburgh tie + Tennessee loss
Pittsburgh loss + Tennessee loss + Indianapolis win + Oakland loss/tie OR
Tennessee loss + Indianapolis win + Pittsburgh ties Oakland in strength-of-victory tiebreaker*
*Pittsburgh ties Oakland in a strength-of-victory tiebreaker if all of the following teams win: Minnesota, Green Bay, Kansas City, and Miami*
Week 17 games to scoreboard-watch:
Steelers at Ravens
Titans at Texans
Colts at Jaguars
Raiders at Broncos