Steelers/Ravens, Stuck Like Glue

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

PITTSBURGH/BALTIMORE HAS A HISTORY
OF GOING DOWN TO THE WIRE

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

Recent history has shown that you can pretty much count on a close game whenever heated AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore square off. NBC is certainly hoping for another compelling game tonight for their much anticipated national TV broadcast of this rivalry renewal.

Recent results...

OCTOBER 10TH, 2010
BALTIMORE (+2) 17, PITTSBURGH 14

Charlie Batch got the start here because the game was played during Ben Roethlisberger's suspension earlier this season. You get the idea that it doesn't matter WHO plays quarterback for either team...it's going to come right down to final seconds. The Ravens scored the game winning TD with only 32 ticks left.

DECEMBER 27TH, 2009
PITTSBURGH (-3) 23, BALTIMORE 20

The Steelers never trailed on their home field in this late season battle last year. But, their biggest lead was just 10 points. The Ravens rallied to tie it in the third quarter. Pittsburgh would kick a fourth quarter field goal to get the win. Note that Baltimore would go on to win the division though, and a playoff game in New England. Pittsburgh didn't reach the postseason last year.

NOVEMBER 29TH, 2009
BALTIMORE (-9) 20, PITTSBURGH 17 (in overtime)

Dennis Dixon had to start at quarterback for the Steelers because of injuries to Big Ben and the second-teamer. Yet, it was STILL a field goal game. And, this time, the Ravens had to go extra minutes. Baltimore kicked a tying field goal late in the fourth quarter, then sent another through the uprights in the extra period.

JANUARY 18TH, 2009
PITTSBURGH (-6) 23, BALTIMORE 14

You probably remember this playoff meeting. It was the AFC Championship game after all! This was the victory that sent Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl to face Arizona. The margin is inflated a bit because of an interception return TD for the Steelers late in the game. The score was 16-14 before that, pretty much in line with the competitive nature of all the recent battles.

DECEMBER 14TH, 2008
PITTSBURGH (+3) 13, BALTIMORE 9

Talk about a defensive struggle! Neither team scored a touchdown until Pittsburgh hit paydirt with 43 seconds left in the game to gain a hardfought road victory.

SEPTEMBER 29TH, 2008
PITTSBURGH (-6) 23, BALTIMORE 20 (in overtime)

This was Joe Flacco's first taste of the rivalry, and it came in his first month as a rookie. You knew he was going to be a top level quarterback when he battled Roethlisberger dead even over 60 minutes.

That results come from 'The Joe Flacco' era...and every single one was a nailbiter. It's a tribute to Flacco that he could be such a force in the rivalry so early. But, it's honestly a strike against him that he couldn't lead his team to impressive results vs. Dennis Dixon or Charlie Batch. That gives you an idea that defenses rule this series...and the QB's aren't able to impose their will as much as you might see in other rivalries.

Who's going to impose their will tonight? Can you take Pittsburgh knowing that Roethlisberger has an injured foot that the team is trying to cover up? Can you take Baltimore (-3) knowing they haven't won a game by MORE than three yet in the Flacco era...even when Big Ben wasn't playing?

Let's review our key stat indicators for some guidance. The numbers you see come from our weekly Thursday previews here in the NOTEBOOK. They represent Drive Points per game, which are those scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more. We add in turnover differential and strength of schedule for additional context.

Pittsburgh: 8.5 offense, 7.5 defense (+11 TO's, 6th schedule)
Baltimore: 13.5 offense, 11.8 defense (-2 TO's, 11th schedule)

Both teams are 8-3, yet neither is posting eye-popping numbers in our key stats. Pittsburgh's offense has been stagnant all season, even with the return of Roethlisberger. They've been winning with GREAT defense and a stellar turnover differential. And, they've been doing that vs. a tough schedule. Let's remember that their Drive Point differential would be more impressive against a league average schedule.

With that stat line, the QB position may not matter much. Pittsburgh hasn't been driving the field for points with ANYBODY. If Big Ben is a late scratch, or plays hobbled, you're still going to see a defensive war from the Pittsburgh perspective.

Baltimore has more production, but a defense that's more vulnerable than people realize. They're like the Jets in that regard (who will discuss tomorrow in an expanded preview of their Monday Night game at New England). The defense is still good, but is living off its past reputation to a degree. Turnover differential is a surprise...because this is a team that should rule that category as well as Pittsburgh does.

We have to say that neither team right now has the stats of a Super Bowl type team based on past norms. The good news for both is that nobody really does in the AFC at this point. New England's defense is extremely soft by playoff standards. You'll recall from the preview that the Jets and Ravens have very similar stats. San Diego is great in Drive Points, but their special teams and turnover issues are always a concern. SOMEBODY is going to win the AFC, and it very well could be the winner, or the loser of tonight's game.

What does JIM HURLEY think? Well, he's not going to post a selection here in the NOTEBOOK. That's for paying customers. We can assure you that he's working very closely with his sources to pin down the latest news on the status of Ben Roethlisberger's bad foot. That could trigger an Under play if nothing else. Even if you don't trust Baltimore to win by more than three points versus any Pittsburgh quarterback, a hobbled Roethlisberger could trigger a 20-17 type game or lower in cool conditions.

And, maybe the Pittsburgh backups are so rusty that this is the time Baltimore DOES post a big margin. You only know that if you're sources are on the ball!

This huge Sunday Nighter may or may not be part of our full day package. NETWORK only gives you the best plays on the board. Among the games we're looking at today:

Dallas at Indianapolis
Atlanta at Tampa Bay
Oakland at San Diego
San Francisco at Green Bay
Washington at the NY Giants
Jacksonville at Tennessee

There is at least one GAME OF THE YEAR caliber release on the card. You can purchase the full slate online with your credit card. Or, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to ask about our upcoming bowl package (it's only Army-Navy plus the bowls from this point forward in college football!) when you call. And, don't forget about our red hot hoops package that's allowing NETWORK clients to make money seven days a week.

Speaking of basketball, there could well be BONUS action from hoops today with a larger than normal 8-game schedule in the NBA, plus a busy college schedule that includes TV games like Oklahoma/Arizona, Virginia/Virginia Tech, Temple/Maryland, and Texas/USC. Be sure you ask our representative about that when you call. Basketball is easiest to beat when oddsmakers are buried in football bets!

Back tomorrow to talk more about the NY Jets/New England game. The month of December will feature expanded bowl coverage, intense NFL analysis on the road to the playoffs, bonus basketball when the schedule permits, and statistical breakdowns you just won't get anywhere else. Be sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's REALLY happening in the world of sports!

And, be sure you link up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK for another SUPER SUNDAY of NFL ACTION!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

21
Nov

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