2019 Game 16: The (8-7) Steelers at the (13-2) Ravens

With thirteen wins, the Ravens guaranteed the number one seed spot for the AFC so announced they would be resting five players for the Steelers games. The most likely NFL MVP Lamar Jackson will join running back Mark Ingram, Earl Thomas, guard Marshal Yanda and DT Brandon Williams as starters that will be rested.

To make the playoffs, the Steelers are in the same position as they were for last year’s finale. They must win and they need help from another team. This time it is Houston they will be rooting for against the Titans.

“It always sucks when you can’t control your own destiny,’’ said Joe Haden. “One thing we can control is beat Baltimore. Everything else will handle itself. Whatever happens, happens. We put ourselves in this position.”

Baltimore’s partnership of Jackson and Ingram has produced 2,224 yards on the ground. Despite the absence of their top two rushers, the Ravens ground game can’t be overlooked as they will be chasing an NFL record that has stood since 1978. They require 93 yards to pass the Patriots as the top single season rushing team in league history.

RG III will lead the offense while Gus Edwards and rookie Justice Hall will be trying to break the rushing record for the Ravens. “Guys are going to step up,” acknowledged Edwards, “and we’re focused on winning more than anything. But to have that record would be nice as well.”

A win will set a franchise record of 14 victories for the Ravens in a regular season.

As it has been for most of the season, the defense will be the key to a Steelers win. With SteelerNation’s fervour fading for Devlin Hodges and without James Conner and Maurkice Pouncey, the offense will have to take advantage of any edge their defense hands them.

The game could be determined by turnovers. The Steelers defense needs to create them while the offense needs to hold onto the ball and not give Baltimore any help with field position.

Jaylen Samuels, Trey Edmunds and rookies Benny Snell Jr. and Kerrith Whyte will share the load as the Steelers attempt to ignite their ground game to enable Hodges to open up the passing game.

With six interceptions in the last two games, Hodges’ quarterback rating has tumbled dramatically, and he needs to keep away from those deep passes that go astray. Fichtner will have to produce a game plan that will play to Hodges’ strengths with short passes and involving the tight ends.

T.J. Watt needs two more sacks to tie James Harrison’s record of 16 that helped him win the NFL’s 2008 Defensive Player of the Year honour. Having won the team’s MVP, Steeler Nation will be looking for him to be honoured by the NFL.

Ed Bouchette’s view in the Athletic on the Steelers/Ravens rivalry:

Few teams in the NFL have had the kinds of success as these two in this century. Of the 20 division championships since 2000 (two as AFC Central, 18 as AFC North), the Steelers have won nine, the Ravens six and the Bengals four. The Steelers (8-7) – with a Duck Hodges as their quarterback and others like James Conner and Maurkice Pouncey out with injuries – are 150-1 shots to win the Super Bowl, the second-longest odds only to the Oakland Raiders at 250-1, according to Betonline.ag. The Ravens (13-2) are 2-1 to win it all.

Baltimore is the betting favourite to win its third Super Bowl of this century, which would surpass the Steelers’ two and be second only to New England’s six. It would be another blow to the Pittsburgh ego if that occurs, and the Ravens, and not the Steelers, look to be the AFC North favourites for quite some time.

The game’s flip card

Steelers/Ravens game notes

NFL game capsule