NFL Thursday Night Preview: Ravens vs. Steelers

usa-today-8815330.0usa-today-8815330.0640Bell093015An interesting game will take place tonight at Heinz field in Pittsburgh. It will be a key AFC North battle that will take without Big Ben. Life without Ben Roethlisberger starts tonight for the Steelers against a Ravens team that is still in the hunt for its first win of the season. Roethlisberger suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee during the Steelers’ 12-6 win at St. Louis and is forecasted to be out of commission 4-6 weeks.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have dreams of getting to the Super Bowl this year. Yet their record of 2-1 means they will face a tough task in trying to reach the postseason without their franchise quarterback. Yet many think that their hopes remain viable. For a start they’ll have to win with Michael Vick at quarterback.

Vick starts for Mike Tomlin’s squadron in a classic AFC North rivalry game with Baltimore led by Joe Flacco, who wants to beat the Steelers for the fourth time in a row. Vick, is a 6-13 since starting in 2012. He is coming off his worst season as a pro with the part-time role he played for the Jets last season. If you count quarterbacks who have at least 100 attempts in 2014, he ranked last in passer rating (68.3), yards per attempt (5.0) and completion percentage (52.9). Those numbers don’t look too good for Pittsburgh. The Steelers are 9-7 without Roethlisberger since he took over as the starter in Week 3 of the 2004 season, but just 2-6 against AFC North foes in that span.

Yet despite the numbers, Vick will still get an opportunity to start and possibly show that he can still be productive at age 35. To do that he’ll have to get the ball to the Steelers playmakers such as star wide receiver Antonio Brown, and also to running back Le’Veon Bell, including passing to tight end Heath Miller.

Going into the season, the Ravens were considered a preseason contender for the AFC North title. In contrast, they instead dropped their first three games and are on the brink of collapsing. Many are calling them the biggest disappointment in the league, and it’s hard to argue against that. The losses were tough as they only scored a combined 14 points. Two of the losses came on the road against Denver and Oakland. At 0-3, the Baltimore Ravens need to win in the worst way possible. And they’d love nothing more than to get their first win of 2015 to be against the Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers at home, in Pittsburgh.

The Ravens are in a complicated situation entering Week 4. For the first time in franchise history they’ve started 0-3, and if they lose it will be their first four-game losing streak since 2007. They are now face an almost impossible task of trying to make the playoffs after losing their first three games of the season. Only three teams have done it in the past 25 years, and no one has since the Bills did it in 1998. If they lose, that fourth straight loss would basically eliminate them from playoff contention.

On the other hand, a loss suffered by a depleted Steelers team would make three of the four teams in the AFC North with at least two losses and will create a huge gap in the standings between the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals and the rest.

Pittsburgh’s win over the Rams last Sunday, with the return of Le’Veon Bell, and a defense that shut down St. Louis a week after doing the same to San Francisco, offer two positive things about Pittsburgh’s game that might give them confidence that they can steal a few games while Roethlisberger is out and Vick is in. But will it be enough to beat Flacco? We don’t think so.

Our Pick: Ravens get their first win, 21-14.