Patriots (PK) and first half under 24 One thing about Super Bowls is they don't tend to start with a bang.
Correlated Wild Card parlay
Correlated parlay – Steelers (-3) vs. Ravens and over 44.5
The absence of star halfback Le’Veon Bell due to a knee injury and the return of run-stuffing nose tackle Haloti Ngata from suspension have dominated the headlines leading up to this showdown between hated rivals, but those developments – while significant – overshadow the real story. Success in the playoffs is about playing to your strengths and exploiting the weaknesses of an opponent. Despite Bell’s emergence in 2014, the Steelers were a mediocre rushing team, averaging 4.1 yards per carry (16th in the NFL), while the Ravens ranked No. 3 with a 3.6 mark on defense. For a Pittsburgh team that leaned on Ben Roethlisberger and a dynamic set of receivers en route to an 8-2 finish, the absence of Bell and the addition of Ngata doesn’t alter their game plan. The way to beat the Ravens is through the air against their decimated secondary, and that was and remains the Steelers’ plan of attack. More on that in a moment.
Historically, this rivalry has been characterized by two things: defense and the absence of home-field advantage as a major determining factor. Baltimore’s 26-6 win at home in Week 2 followed by Pittburgh’s 43-23 rebuttal at Heinz Field two months later should serve as sufficient evidence that in the current iteration of this matchup, points are no longer at a premium and home field absolutely matters. Moreover, a deeper look reveals that the two-game sample size is in fact an accurate indicator of each team’s relative performance at home vs. on the road in 2014. Consider the following:
- The Steelers averaged 11.7 yards per completion in the regular season, No. 5 in the league. At home, that jumped to 12.6 and third overall. The Ravens surrendered 10.4 yards per completion (eighth) for the season, but 11.0 on the road (tied for 14th).
- Pittsburgh averaged 6.2 yards per play on offense (tied for No. 1) and 6.3 at home (third). Baltimore allowed 5.2 yards per play (eighth) and 5.6 on the road (tied for 15th).
- The Steelers converted 52.73 percent of their cumulative red zone opportunities into touchdowns (18th), and 64.29 percent at home (No. 4). The Ravens’ 42.59-percent mark on defense in the same category was good for second overall, but fell to 48.57 and 13th on the road.
- Baltimore ranked eighth overall with a turnover rate of 1.2 per game during the season, but just 24th on the road with a 1.8 mark.
- The Ravens produced an overall sack rate of 7.61 percent that ranked seventh in the league, but that slipped to 6.46 percent away from home (15th). The Steelers allowed sacks on 5.12 percent of total dropbacks (13th), and 4.79 at home (10th).
All told, in virtually every key area, the Steelers have outperformed their cumulative season standards at home while the Ravens have markedly underperformed by their own standards on the road. The combination of those trends looks like it will be the difference in this playoff game. As long as the offensive line is able to protect Roethlisberger, the Steelers are going to throw the ball and keep throwing it, and the Ravens won’t be able to do much about it. Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense should be able to run the ball on a porous Steelers defense if they get Justin Forsett enough touches, but that will require committing to the run – a proposition that becomes increasingly difficult when faced with an opposing offense that presents such a dynamic aerial attack. That’s exactly the scenario the Ravens figure to be facing come Saturday night.
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