AFC North

Steelers At Ravens: It All Comes Down To This

Matt Freed/Post-Gazette
Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

And… some other games as well. The Steelers travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens in the NFL’s first-ever Week 18 of the regular season. A win with some help will see them into the playoffs in what is most likely Ben Roethlisberger’s final season.

How the Steelers get into the playoffs

Obviously, the Steelers have to beat the Ravens. They also need the Jaguars to beat the Colts. Jacksonville doesn’t look like a team that can help the Steelers following their 50-10 loss to the Patriots last week, but anything can happen. In fact, the Colts haven’t beaten the Jags since 2014, which is an interesting little nugget heading into this weekend. Regardless, fans will be watching the scoreboard as well as the game on Sunday.

The Steelers have already achieved a .500 or better record for the 18th-straight year under Ben Roethlisberger. Now we just hope that the Big Ben Farewell Tour can continue into the post-season. Oh, and one more thing, the Steelers also need the Chargers and Raiders game not to end in a tie. This is the most predictable part of the scenario for Steelers’ fans, but again, anything can happen.

Major storylines

Ben Roethlisberger played his first game in Baltimore in 2004, and could very well play his last game there this weekend. I am looking for an emotional Big Ben to lead the Steelers to a victory against the Ravens. Roethlisberger should love nothing more than to finish the season against the rival Ravens.

We are also watching the play of T.J. Watt. He leads the NFL with 21.5 sacks and is just one sack away from tying Michael Strahan’s NFL-record of 22.5 sacks in a single season. And I know there will be some that try to say Watt has had one extra game to break the record, but please know that Watt has only played in14 games this season. He should be poised to break this record, coming off a dominating 4 sack game against the Browns last week.

Keys to the game

While it’s tempting for us fans to get lost in intriguing storylines and playoff scenarios, we must hope that the Pittsburgh players are solely focused on winning the game. Starting quickly is again paramount for the Steelers against the Ravens. Although the Steelers didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard against the Browns, they did take a 10-0 lead into halftime. Against the Ravens, it will be essential for them to play with a lead. They need to establish some good possession on offense and give their aggressive defense the advantage in this one.

Against the Browns, they were able to win pretty much all of the key stat categories – time of possession and the turnover margin to name a couple. Personally, though, I like how the running game was successful. Najee Harris hit 188 yards on the night, and Steelers’ fans finally got to see the impact Harris can have when he gets going. I think they need to run effectively against the Ravens as well. Roethlisberger did throw 46 times against the Browns, but for less than two hundred yards. The Steelers will want to maintain balance on offense. Though it should be mentioned that the Ravens’ secondary is much worse than the Browns, and the Steelers’ passing game should be more efficient in this one.

Personnel notes

The Steelers will be facing Tyler Huntley against the Ravens, as Lamar Jackson has been ruled out. This is quite the boon for the Steelers since the Ravens (8-8) have not won with Huntley as their starter since Week 11 in Chicago. More good news is that WR Diontae Johnson has been activated off of the COVID reserve list, and he should start for the Steelers.

There is some not-so-good news in that CB Joe Haden was placed on the COVID reserve list on January 5th. If he is vaccinated, he’ll have a chance to play, but it is going to be tight. His absence would be a huge loss for the Steelers on Sunday.

Whatever happens on Sunday, at least Steelers’ fans will have a lot to cheer for, and we can only hope it is not Big Ben’s last NFL game.

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