STAR PREVIEW Sun: Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers

ANDY RICHMOND is a lifelong punter and sports enthusiast who now writes extensively on horse racing and the NFL. His CV includes long spells on Timeform Radio and Racing UK having previously held several positions at the then-fledgling Betfair Exchange where he worked for six years. He has a particular love for the statistical and analytical side of sports which fits in well with the NFL. He writes all the NFL content on Paul Jones subscription service as well as having his own betting advisory service.

Baltimore lead the AFC North with an 8-3 record which for the most part has been compiled in a fashion that is less than pretty. For instance quarterback Lamar Jackson threw four interceptions last week against the Browns but still the Ravens came out winning. Jackson has had his struggles in the past against the Steelers having faced them just twice he’s thrown five total interceptions to three touchdowns in those games and was sacked nine times.

This time around though Jackson faces a very different Pittsburgh outfit and one that is on the brink of being almost out of the playoff race and one whose best result over the last three games is a tie with the so far winless Lions.

Offensively the season has been a struggle for the Steelers and especially their veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with this looking to be his last year with the team. Operating an offence that has only scored 35 points in three divisional games so far and held to 20 points or less (in regulation) in seven of 11 games Roethlisberger faces a Ravens defence that isn’t as formidable in recent years and looks to be mid-pack or worse in the majority of pass-coverage and pass-rush statistics.

One of the big questions that the Steelers will need to answer is can they survive if the Ravens manage to eliminate their run game. Najee Harris has been at the fulcrum of the Pittsburgh run game this season but he’s finding it tough going of late and whilst he may get plenty of touches stopping the Pittsburgh running back hasn’t been hard over the last month as Harris is averaging 3.4 yards per carry, which ranks 73rd in the league over that stretch. Harris in particular has been struggling to pick up big gains behind a poor offensive line. The Steelers have just 17 carries of 10-plus yards, which ranks in the Bottom 8.

All of that may mean that Roethlisberger has to rely even more heavily on his safety blanket wide receiver Diontae Johnson who is benefitting from his quarterbacks penchant for throwing short passes to him on his route-tree which appears to get shorter each week whilst the number of receptions and targets gets ever more voluminous.

The Ravens in particular will be happy to give away the short yardage gains that Johnson collects each week it’s interesting to note that in four of the last five weeks Johnson has easily eclipsed the +72.5 yards receiving line that has been set. If tight end Pat Freiermuth clears concussion protocols he would be worth a glance in the touchdown scorer market as he has five TD’s in his last five games and is someone Roethlisberger looks for in the end zone.

For a long time the Steelers have had a rock solid defensive reputation and one that it was hard to score points on but of late that’s not been true and they have conceded an average of 31.3 points over their last four games. The Steelers just allowed 41 points in back-to-back games for the first time since 1989.

The Ravens for the first time in ages look to have a full roster ready to go on offence and I’m expecting the Ravens could go run-heavy here having seen Bengals running back Joe Mixon bulldoze his way through them last week and over the past three games Pittsburgh have allowed 594 rushing yards.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is one of the most dangerous with his legs at his position in the league and Devonta Freeman appears to have secured the role as the premier running back averaging a robust 16.8 touches over the last four games. Freeman hasn’t had 100 yards rushing since 2017 when he was with the Falcons he has an ideal chance of stacking up some decent numbers here.

The ever reliable tight end Mark Andrews is another piece of the Ravens offence expected to have a big game he averages eight targets per game and has topped 50 yards in eight games.

This is the first time these two old foes have met this season and by the time they meet next in Week 18 a lot of issues should have been settled but there’s no doubt that the Steelers need to win this to stay playoff relevant at the very least. The game itself could turn into a grind and whilst Baltimore should win this divisional games can produce some against the crowd results and we have seen plenty of those in an already unpredictable NFL season and the value here ought to be in the player markets.

BACK Diontae Johnson +72.5 receiving yards 2pts at 5/6 (Latest Star Price ? CLICK TO BET NOW)
BACK Devonta Freeman +48.5 rushing yards 2pts at 5/6 (Latest Star Price ? CLICK TO BET NOW)
BACK Devonta Freeman to score a TD 2pts at 11/10 (Latest Star Price ? CLICK TO BET NOW)

PROFIT/LOSS (DECEMBER 2021): LOSS -6.03 points
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