Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

0
556

The Ravens welcomed Ben Roethlisberger to the NFL in 2004 and will very likely send him out on Sunday.

Baltimore and Pittsburgh have played many more important games over the years with each team holding only a slim chance of making the playoffs entering the 2021 regular-season finale, making this meeting more about pride and acknowledging the last remaining pillar of an old guard that created one of the NFL’s best rivalries. Hate him or love him, Roethlisberger has brought no shortage of memorable moments to Ravens-Steelers lore over the years.

John Harbaugh’s team would love nothing more than to hand him one last defeat as he rides off into the sunset.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC North foes collide for the 56th time in the all-time series (counting the playoffs) with the Steelers leading 31-24 and having won the last three meetings. Including the postseason, Baltimore holds a 10-18 record in games started by Roethlisberger dating back to his rookie season in 2004.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. A Ravens defensive lineman will inadvertently break Roethlisberger’s nose. At his retirement press conference three years ago, five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata called it the favorite play of his career. “I didn’t do it on purpose, but it kind of just happened.” Few plays better epitomized the brutality of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry over the years, but Roethlisberger did get the last laugh that night as Pittsburgh prevailed 13-10 in that 2010 prime-time slugfest.

(Courtesy of NBC Sports)

2. The Pittsburgh quarterback will throw a touchdown pass that may or may not break the plane of the goal line. Thirteen years later, some still debate whether Santonio Holmes’ goal-line catch was a touchdown as it was ruled short on the field before a replay review overturned the call, giving the Steelers a 13-9 win and the 2008 AFC North division championship in the process. Another goal-line touchdown eight years later gave Pittsburgh a division-clinching victory on Christmas, but Antonio Brown’s winning stretch was just plain painful rather than controversial.

(Courtesy of CBS Sports)
(Courtesy of NBC Sports/NFL Network)

3. A Baltimore defender will intercept a pass — with his legs. It’s only fitting that Sunday’s returning “Legend of the Game” will be Terrell Suggs, the man who sacked Roethlisberger more than any other NFL player as they waged wars over 15 seasons and shared a mutual respect by the end. Ironically, it was Suggs’ leg-squeezing interception late in Baltimore’s 2014 playoff win that goes down as one of his more memorable plays in the rivalry. The takeaway helped seal the Ravens’ only playoff win over the Steelers to date.

(Courtesy of NBC Sports)

4. Roethlisberger will be knocked completely off his feet at some point. Entering 2006, Pittsburgh had won 14 of the first 21 meetings (including the only playoff meeting in 2001), swept the season series three times, and raised the Lombardi Trophy the previous year. In other words, the rivalry had been much more one-sided than Baltimore cared to admit. But a Week 12 meeting that season was easily one of the Ravens’ most enjoyable with a ferocious defense pitching a 27-0 shutout and sacking Roethlisberger nine times. The signature play came late in the first half when Bart Scot absolutely leveled the Steelers quarterback, who never saw him coming. “That’s probably the hardest I’ve ever been hit in my life. I just kind of remember my head hitting the ground. I couldn’t really breathe very well.” To his credit, Roethlisberger missed only one play before returning and toughed out a second half in which he was sacked six more times and threw two interceptions.

(Courtesy of CBS Sports)

5. Reminiscing aside, the Ravens will snap their five-game losing streak with a 23-16 win over Pittsburgh. Alright, we took our fun trip down memory lane — I’m not advocating for someone to break Roethlisberger’s nose, just to be clear — which brings us back to the present day of two mediocre teams still mathematically alive because of an expanded playoff field and 17-game schedule. Though I’m looking forward to watching T.J. Watt try to break the single-season sack record and Mark Andrews’ attempt to set a new NFL single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end, both teams needing an unlikely Jacksonville win over Indianapolis in their respective clinching scenarios takes much of the air out of this one. I do wonder how much Roethlisberger and the Steelers have left emotionally after last Monday night’s farewell at Heinz Field, but the Ravens will be playing a fourth straight game without Lamar Jackson and have lost four of their last five games by two or fewer points, an excruciating sequence that has to take a mental toll in a frustrating second half of the season. I expect a close game because Ravens-Steelers is almost always close — 21 of the last 27 meetings have been decided by a single score — but I like backup Tyler Huntley to best the 39-year-old Roethlisberger, who lost his first game in Baltimore and will fall in his final appearance at M&T Bank Stadium.