The 2014 NFL season could not have gotten off to a worse start for the Baltimore Ravens, who lost in Week One to an AFC North opponent and were forced to release Ray Rice a day later. In Week Two, they’ll look to turn things around and pick up their first victory of the year when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On Sunday, the Ravens lost 23-16 to the Cincinnati Bengals. Baltimore took their first lead of the game with 5:46 left, but gave up a touchdown just 48 seconds later. The next day, the team announced that it decided to cut Rice, after TMZ released a video of the running back punching his wife in an Atlantic City hotel elevator.
Even before the team released Rice and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him indefinitely, the team was prepared to be without their starter for the first two games. During the first game of Rice’s original two-game suspension, Justin Forsett led the Ravens with 70 yards on 11 carries. Bernard Pierce added six carries for 14 yards.
Pittsburgh had a much better start to their season. They defeated the Cleveland Browns at home in Week One, though the contest proved to be much more difficult than many might have expected. After taking a 27-3 lead into halftime, the Steelers found themselves tied in the fourth quarter, needing a last-second field goal by Shaun Suisham to close out the victory.
Without their top playmaker, the Ravens will be looking for their quarterback to perform like the player that led them to the Super Bowl just two seasons ago. Joe Flacco signed a $120.6 million contract after the 2012 season, and what followed was his worst year in the NFL. Last season, Flacco threw three more interceptions than touchdowns. Against the Bengals, he threw for 345 yards, but it took him 62 pass attempts to do so.
Ben Roethlisberger, on the other hand, had a very strong Week One performance. He completed nearly 68 percent of his passes for 365 yards and a touchdown. Not only did Antonio Brown have a big day, but second-year receiver Markus Wheaton’s 97 yards topped his 64 receiving yards from all of last season.
Le’Veon Bell could be the key for Pittsburgh in Week Two. The Ravens had the 11th best rush defense last season, and held the Bengals to just 3.0 yards per carry on Sunday. In 2013, Bell found a measure of success against Baltimore, totaling 166 yards on 35 attempts, as well as scoring a rushing and receiving touchdown.
The Steelers and Ravens have one of the fiercest rivalries in the NFL. Each year, the two teams play each other extremely close.
If recent history is any indication, the game between the Ravens and Steelers should come down to the wire. In their last 12 regular-season matchups, Pittsburgh narrowly leads the series with a 7-5 record. All but two of those games were decided by three points or less, while another contest saw the Steelers win by just four points. In 2013, they split their two games, which were decided by a total of five points.
Thursday’s rivalry game is expected to bring more of the same, with the Ravens being named 2.5-point favorites at most Las Vegas casinos. The over/under comes in at 44 total points.
The betting odds favor the Ravens, who are usually one of the best home teams in the league. They haven’t lost more than two games in a season at M&T Bank Stadium since 2007.
Prediction: It’s almost always a guarantee that these two teams will play each other within a field goal. Pittsburgh’s offensive line needs to improve after allowing four sacks in Week One, but Baltimore’s pass rush looked just as pedestrian, failing to sack Andy Dalton even once. The Steelers’ defense was manhandled in the second half, and Steve Smith could have another big day against the Pittsburgh secondary. However, Roethlisberger is much more trustworthy than Flacco at this point, and he has the weapons to make a few big plays that could put the Steelers over the top.
Predicted Score: Pittsburgh over Baltimore, 20-19