Free NFL Pick: Baltimore at Pittsburgh 01-15-2011

January 13, 2011

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Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

Saturday January 15th, 2011 4:30 PM EST

Line: Pittsburgh -3

Overview:

This is one of the best games of the season every year. This year, we are fortunate enough to experience it three times. Both franchises have eerie similarities. They value the run game, they have a daunting defense, and above all else, they pride themselves on punishing their opponents. They split this season 1-1. Each game was decided by three points and each came down to the wire. We shouldn’t expect anything less from this one. There is a good chance this team could represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, but they will have to survive this week first. As the great Ray Lewis once said, “buckle your chinstrap.”

Keys to the Game:

  • Safety play is going to play a huge role in this game. Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed are as good as they come and will make their presence felt. Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger have to know where their respective opposing safety is at all times. Ed Reed covers more ground than anyone in the NFL. His football intelligence is unparalleled at the position and he always seems to find himself in the ball. Nobody makes plays in the backfield, down the field, and sideline to sideline like Troy Polamalu does.
  • The best front seven in the league is on the field in this game. The Ravens probably have the better defensive line. They have, in my opinion, the defensive player of the year in Haloti Ngata. He commands more attention than any defensive player in the league and still manages to make play. With Terrell Suggs coming off the edge, it is nearly impossible to account for one of the greatest defensive players of all time in Ray Lewis.
  • On the other side, James Farrior, Lamar Woodley, James Harrison, and Lawrence Timmons make up what I would call the best linebacker corp in the NFL. The defensive line features no slouches, with Casey Hampton clearing the way for the linebackers behind him to come downhill, but the Linebackers and Troy Polamalu are the playmakers in the defense.

Key Matchup:

Ray Rice Vs. Rashard Mendenhall

  • In their last meeting, neither team was able to produce a 50 yard rusher. Both teams were able to effectively move the ball through the air. While the passing games will probably be most the most effective way of moving the ball for each team, both teams will try to run the ball early. Ray Rice is an every down back, who makes a living on third down. The Steelers are athletic enough to cover him when he goes out on routes, which is essential in shutting down the Ravens pass game. Rice has had two lackluster performances against the Steelers, so he will be looking to make a statement here.
  • Rashard Mendenhall is a one cut downhill runner with breakaway speed. That being said, he too has struggled in this game. The Steelers’ pass game relies on Hines Ward to move the change and Mike Wallace to haul in two or three huge catches a game. In order to keep the Ravens honest, the Steelers have to establish the run game. They ran the ball tirelessly to no avail in their last matchup with the Ravens. If either running back is able to get anything going on the ground, it will be the difference in this game.

Wrap Up:

This game is decided by clock management, field position, and the turnover battle. While that can be said for most games, it rings especially true here. Both teams pride themselves on all three of these factors. Their games usually come down to the final whistle and every single point is crucial to the outcome of this always low scoring game. Will the home field advantage be enough to knock off the Ravens or will John Harbaugh come out of Pittsburgh with a victory for the second time this season?

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