When two elite defenses featuring six combined Pro Bowlers square off, the natural expectation is a low-scoring physical grind. While I'm certain the Ravens and Steelers will contain each other to some extent, this game could be higher-scoring than the Vegas linesmakers project.
According to Covers.com, the Steelers are 3.5-point favorites and the total over/under is 37 points. I believe the Ravens' offensive personnel can create enough matchup problems to establish an early lead, and "Big Ben" Roethlisberger is one of the premier comeback quarterbacks in the NFL.
Given that potential script, I'm seeing 41 to 47 total points.
Specifically, I love the balance of the Ravens' offense. Joe Flacco, in just his third professional season, is incredibly poised in the pocket and comfortable under duress. He has the natural ability to make the tough throws and I think, more often than not, that he will be able to hang tough against the Steelers' patented blitz packages.
Ray Rice is a dangerous all-around back, Anquan Boldin is a legitimate WR1 and Todd Heap (coming off an outstanding performance against the Chiefs) is a pro's pro. Veteran wide receivers Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are production wild cards; it's difficult to project anything from them, but that doesn't mean they won't wake up in the endzone at some point.
On Pittsburgh's side, Troy Polamalu's ankle injury is a bit of a concern, but according to Rotoworld.com head coach Mike Tomlin said his top safety is in "pretty good shape" for the battle with the Ravens. I expect him to play, and do so around 90 percent.
Polamalu will do what he always seems to do: find a way to make plays.
Offensively, I don't have a ton of confidence in the Steelers' wide receivers. WR1 Mike Wallace had an excellent regular season (1257 yards and 10 TDs) but I don't consider him a pure No. 1 receiver.
Wallace is primarily a down field burner who lacks the possession skills of elite WRs like Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Reggie Wayne, to name a few.
WR2 Hines Ward is on the downside of his fantastic NFL career, and I wonder about his ability to get loose in one-on-one situations. Baltimore's starting cornerbacks, Josh Wilson and Chris Carr, are underrated. From what I've seen, they continue to improve from one week to the next.
And how can anyone talk about the Ravens' defense without mentioning LB Ray Lewis, S Ed Reed, DE Terrell Suggs and DT Haloti Ngata?
OK, now I've mentioned them. You know what they can do. They're freaks.
All things considered, I think the Ravens are the superior all-around team. The Steelers have the home field advantage and the better quarterback (sounds like the Colts' scenario last week), but I'm not sure that will be enough.
My prediction: Ravens 24, Steelers 17. The Ravens cover the spread and the OVER hits.
(John Frascella is the author of "Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land," the first and only book centered on Boston 's popular GM Theo Epstein. Check it out on Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble online. Follow John on Twitter @RedSoxAuthor.)
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