Wild Card Playoff Picks: Ravens, Steelers

Baltimore and Pittsburgh’s Wild Card game on Saturday is shaping up like a classic: Wet, cold and sloppy! We’ve got an ATS prediction for how this one will play out.

The history of close games between the Ravens and Steelers at Heinz Field was disrupted earlier this season when Pittsburgh served up a 20-point win on six Ben Roethlisberger touchdown passes. Saturday is payback time John Harbaugh and the road squad but the books have installed Pittsburgh as a token 3-point fave with a total of O/U 45. Some nasty weather is in the forecast so that total is falling but the ATS line is holding strong.

NFL WILD CARD PREDICTIONS

Baltimore’s 2014 season followed a good path. After losing the opener to Cinci the Ravens won three-straight including a pair of divisional games. One of those wins was a primetime tilt against these Steelers (Week 2) and the line was tight in all three matchups but Baltimore beat won that game by 20-plus points (26-6).

Baltimore then lost a close one to the Colts but rebounded with back-to-back wins by 31 and 22 points. They were beatable foes, no question, but the Ravens only lost back-to-back games once all season. The second of those two losses was Week 9 at PGH, 43-23, following a three-point loss at Cinci. The Steelers were playing with revenge and that was the third of three-straight home games for Pittsburgh. A lot of situational stuff suggested Pittsburgh would win that game straight-up but nothing really prepared me for that kind of blowout.

[quote_text color=”#000000″ text_color=”#ffffff”]The 20-point MOV ended a streak of six consecutive games between these two teams in Pittsburgh decided by exactly three points[/quote_text]

Baltimore’s best game in the second-half of the season was Week 14 at Miami and their worst is up for debate. The first candidate was seven days beforehand against the Chargers when Baltimore gave up 376 passing yards and 31 first downs in a 34-33 loss. San Diego scored 21 of its points in the fourth quarter. The other letdown was Week 16 at Houston, a game that would have given Baltimore full control of its playoff eligibility. The Ravens offense was held to a season-low 215 yards and 15 first downs in a 25-13 loss and had the Chargers been able to beat KC, Baltimore would have indeed been sitting on the outside of this year’s playoff picture looking in, but the Texans defense is better than Pittsburgh’s on almost every count.

Baltimore’s defense is among the best the Steelers have faced all year, too, but Pittsburgh saved its best games this season for the best teams. They went 7-1 ATS against winning teams and just 2-6 ATS vs. teams with a losing record (includes Week 1 vs. the Browns). In that second game vs. Baltimore this year, Pittsburgh focused on stopping the run. Raven rushing yards were reduced from 157 in the first game to 63. Pittsburgh also unleashed the passing attack and all the big playmakers got involved. Eight different targets in all and five different players making TD catches; PGH was 3 for 3 in the red zone.

Baltimore was limited on third down, going just 3 for 13 (23-percent) but the Ravens’ overall season rate is 41-percent (14th) and that’s up five points from last year.

KEY PIECES

Steelers S Troy Polamalu (knee) and S Ike Taylor (shoulder) are practicing this week and should see action on Saturday. RB Le’Veon Bell (knee) is trying to recover from his injury sustained vs. Cinci but a short week is stacking the cards against him. Ravens RB Justin Forsett (ankle) looks good and the fact Harbaugh was able to limit his carries down the stretch could play to Baltimore’s favor. The Ravens were 6-2 straight-up this season in games where Forsett rushed for 70-plus yards and they scored 29 points per game (PPG).

PLAYOFF PICKS – ROUND 1

Pittsburgh is a good time of possession team, first- and second-half, home and on the road. The Ravens are a better second-half time of possession team (54-percent, second-best in the league) but their best work was done at home (only 48.4-percent on the road). In bad weather, they’ll need the defense to play a huge part with Forsett carrying the workload on offense. We played the Ravens plus the points two ways for this game: Half-a-unit on the best ATS odds available (+3 at even money; Sports Interaction) and another at the adjusted price of +3.5 (-122). It nets out to a 1-unit play with average juice of -111.

Pick: Take the Ravens

Read our NFL Playoff Best Bet from the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers!

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