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Divisional Round NFL Playoff Lines: Ravens vs. Steelers Prediction

Saturday NFL Betting – Baltimore, Pittsburgh Reunite In AFC North Grudge Match

The Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers are arguably the two teams that have played each other more than any other combos in the NFL over the past three seasons.

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Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Date/Time: 4:15 PM ET, Saturday, January 15th, 2011
Venue: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh PA
Broadcast: CBS
Ravens vs. Steelers Betting Lines from Just Bet
Spread: Ravens +3, Steelers -3
Over/Under: 37
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How Can Baltimore Win?

Since this game is a matchup of teams that both know each other so well – and who traded three-point road victories in the regular season (17-14 Baltimore in Pittsburgh, followed by a 13-10 Pittsburgh win in Maryland in December) – the keys are not very complicated or unoriginal. Very simply, Baltimore has to do things that put Flacco in a position to succeed with a minimum of risk. Getting turnovers from an inconsistent Pittsburgh offense is priority number one. The more work the Baltimore defense does, the less Flacco has to do. However, when Baltimore has the ball, the Ravens need to throw on first down, get five- or six-yard gains with short, high-percentage passes, and set up very favorable down-and-distance situations on second and third down. If Baltimore doesn’t get into second-and-long or third-and-long, it will have a very good chance to dictate the flow of the game.

How Can Pittsburgh Win?

It’s really simple for Pittsburgh: Make Flacco win this game. The Steelers, as long as they don’t give away cheap points or great field position due to turnovers or special-teams mishaps, will put the onus on Flacco to produce on the road against the din of a hostile Heinz Field crowd. Flacco, when playing well two seasons ago, couldn’t win in Pittsburgh in the playoffs. This year, Flacco’s less confident than he was in January of 2009. If Pittsburgh commits few mistakes and shifts the pressure to Baltimore, the Ravens are unlikely to handle the heat.

NFL Handicapping: Outlook & Pick

This is a reunion of bitter foes who know each other’s dance steps better than anyone else in the very closed world of professional football. Baltimore and Pittsburgh will be playing for the third time in a season in 2010-11. This marks the second time in the past three seasons that such a scenario has unfolded.

In the 2008-09 campaign, Baltimore and Pittsburgh traded punches in two regular season games and then took their act to the playoffs as well. In January of 2009, the Ravens ventured to Western Pennsylvania to face the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. A late interception by the Steelers made the difference, as young coach Mike Tomlin reached a Super Bowl and carried on the winning tradition begun by Chuck Noll and then continued by Bill Cowher. Baltimore’s then-rookie quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t been as close to the Super Bowl since that moment of defeat. It’s ironic that Flacco’s rookie season in Baltimore was his best. Subsequent seasons have witnessed more turnovers and more situational breakdowns from the Delaware product.

The point of concern for Pittsburgh is the health of all-world safety Troy Polamalu, regarded as the single best defensive player remaining in the NFL postseason. Polamalu will play, and he certainly needed the wild-card bye the Steelers earned. Nevertheless, if his balky body doesn’t hold up for 60 minutes, Flacco and the rest of the Ravens will have a great chance to advance to another AFC title tilt. It’s time for the tiebreaker in a 2010 season series that featured wins by each team, both coming on the road.

The Ravens, had they won the December matchup, would have hosted this game coming off a bye week. Instead, it’s Pittsburgh who will be rested and at home. That will make a big difference in a punishing ballgame. Polamalu would have been shaky if the Steelers had to play a wild card game, but a fresher Polamalu should be able to run around the field and pick off a Flacco pass in a big moment. Pick the Steelers in what should be a close game.

Pick: Steelers -3

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