Game of the Week: Ravens at Steelers
The Bears and Packers may have one of the oldest rivalries in the league, but the Cowboys-Redskins feud has long been held as the greatest grudge on the gridiron.
The Jets and Patriots have certainly made their fair share of fireworks the past few seasons, although New England's battles with Indianapolis have been more entertaining on the field.
Yet no conflict embodies the principles of pigskin in present day more than the rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.
Both are successful, as Pittsburgh is 39-17 since the start of the 2008 season, with the Ravens slightly behind with a mark of 37-18. The animosity is certainly palatable, with Terrell Suggs' infamous bounty on Hines Ward and Willis McGahee's concussion from a controversial hit by Ryan Clark serving as catalysts for the hostility.
The two franchises even share some of the same TV markets. With the two teams fighting for first place in the division, Sunday's matchup in the Steel City will serve as our WhatIfSports.com Game of the Week.
Historically known as a ground-and-pound team, the Steelers are taking an alternate route in their offensive game plan this season. Rusher Rashard Mendenhall posted nearly 1,300 yards with 13 touchdowns last season, but the back has yet to get going in 2011, with just 421 yards and three scores throug seven games.
With the ground game stalled, the Steelers have taken to the air.
Ben Roethlisberger is averaging over 287 yards per contest, finding the end zone 14 times. Mike Wallace continues to develop into one of the league's finest deep threats, with 800 yards on a mere 43 receptions.
Second-year man Antonio Brown has emerged as a new safety net over the middle, leading the team with 63 targets and hauling in 67 or more yards in five of the past seven contests.
As for the defense? Subtract the 35 points posted by Baltimore in the season-opener, and the Steelers are surrendering a meager 14.9 points in their seven other ballgames.
The pass defense is suffocating opposing signal-callers to a league-low 171.6 yards, and their rush defense, while suffering scrutiny early in the season, is one of four AFC teams holding adversaries to less than 100 yards per contest.
The Steel Curtain is back, indeed.
Consequentially, one of the three other AFC squads that stop the run is Baltimore, sporting an 89.1 yards-per-game mark on the season. But as resolute as the Ravens are against the run, the team is statistically more stout through the air, squashing signal-callers to an incompetent QB rating of 65.5.
Led by savvy veterans Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata, the Ravens may boast their most sound and dexterous defensive unit since the celebrated Super Bowl squad of 2000.
However, Baltimore's title aspirations may ultimately lie with the erratic arm of Joe Flacco.
At times, Flacco has been magnificent, throwing for 1,254 yards, six touchdowns and two picks in Baltimore's odd games (Game 1, Game 3, etc.) this season. In a related note, the Ravens are 4-0 in those contests.
However, in the even games, the Delaware product has been horrendous, tossing for a feeble 497 yards and four picks. Consequently, Baltimore is just 1-2 in these ballgames. Ray Rice may be one of the best multipurpose backs in the NFL, but as Flacco goes, so goes Baltimore.
So, who will win this battle of AFC North powerhouses?
According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the Ravens come out on top 52.3 percent of the time, winning by an average score of 19-18. For the rest of this week's predictions, check below.
|NFL Week 9|
|@ Houston Texans||83.3||28||Texans&vSeason=2011&vTeam=Cleveland+Browns" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|@ Dallas Cowboys||78.4||24||Seahawks" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|@ Kansas City Chiefs||66.5||24||Chiefs&vSeason=2011&vTeam=Miami+Dolphins" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|@ Oakland Raiders||62.1||21||Raiders&vSeason=2011&vTeam=Denver+Broncos" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|St. Louis Rams||38.1||21||Boxscore|
|@ Arizona Cardinals||61.9||25||Rams" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|@ Philadelphia Eagles||59.5||23||Simulate Game|
|@ Tennessee Titans||57.6||20||Titans&vSeason=2011&vTeam=Cincinnati+Bengals" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|New York Giants||44.6||23||Boxscore|
|@ New England Patriots||55.4||25||Giants" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||45.1||25||Boxscore|
|@ New Orleans Saints||54.9||27||Buccaneers" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|@ Pittsburgh Steelers||47.7||18||Simulate Game|
|New York Jets||64.0||22||Boxscore|
|@ Buffalo Bills||36.0||18||Simulate Game|
|Green Bay Packers||76.1||29||Boxscore|
|@ San Diego Chargers||23.9||21||Simulate Game|
|San Francisco 49ers||82.1||23||Boxscore|
|@ Washington Redskins||17.9||12||49ers" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|@ Indianapolis Colts||12.5||14||Falcons" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
Each Tuesday, WhatIfSports.com's NFL simulation engine will provide you with predictions, box scores and statistics for every NFL game that week. The NFL simulation engine generates detailed information including the home team's chances of winning (Home Win %), average score and comprehensive box score link. If you want to share your new found NFL knowledge with friends and family, make sure to check out our NFL Widgets on the WhatIf To Go page or click on the social networking share bar located at the top and bottom of the article.
The statistical inputs to the thousands of NFL games simulated are based on rigorous analysis of each team's roster, depth chart and statistically based player ranking. Roster modifications have been made for injuries and suspensions and those players are not part of their team's game simulation.
To account for injuries and roster moves announced late in the week, we will be re-simulating some games on Thursdays throughout the 2011 NFL season.
Check out our 2011 NFL Season-to-Date page to follow our accuracy week-to-week and find Locks and Upsets of the Week.