AFC North Battle in 'Burgh
The AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers are unbeaten at Heinz Field this season and have not lost a Monday night game at home in more than 16 years.
That probably won't be enough to deter the defending division champion Baltimore Ravens, who annihilated Pittsburgh twice last season.
The Steelers look to avenge those losses and pad their division lead when they host the Ravens, who are trying to come out recharged after stumbling into their bye.
Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made Pittsburgh -9.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday's game, the over/under has been set at 36 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 59% of bets for this game have been placed on Pittsburgh -9.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
Pittsburgh (5-2) is sitting atop the AFC North, but has company as Baltimore (4-3) and Cleveland (4-3) are just one game back.
"I'm pleased we're in that position, that we can play a game on Monday night for the lead in the division,'' Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Am I satisfied with 4-3? Of course not.''
Baltimore already has matched its loss total from last season when it won the division with a 13-3 record. That included a 27-0 home rout of the Steelers and a 31-7 win in Pittsburgh.
Last season, the Ravens sacked Steleers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger 14 times and forced him to throw four interceptions while holding Willie Parker, last season's sixth-leading rusher, to only 51 yards on 23 carries.
"You know how you felt afterward," Roethlisberger said. "You got embarrassed twice, once here, once there. It's not a good thing. It leaves a taste in your mouth. They roughed us up, a lot. We need another all-around performance like we had (last Sunday), in all phases of the game.''
Pittsburgh defeated the Bengals 24-13 last Sunday, as Roethlisberger was 19-of-26 for 230 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
Roethlisberger is playing significantly better than a year ago, as he's leading the league's fourth-ranked offense with 361.1 yards per game. He has 15 touchdowns - three off his career high - and six interceptions this season compared to seven TDs with 14 picks through seven games a year ago.
"I think offensively we're playing well," Roethlisberger said. "I think the key is if we can keep doing that, just trying to get better. We need to keep improving and keep working on trying to be a good football team. I think we have the potential to be great, but we've got a ways to go."
Pittsburgh is outscoring its opponents 84-19 in three home games this season, and has won six of its last seven at Heinz Field with the only loss coming to Baltimore.
The Steelers also have won a remarkable 11 straight home games on Monday night since a 23-20 loss to the New York Giants on Oct. 14, 1991. The Ravens, meanwhile, have dropped their last three Monday road games.
Parker had 126 rushing yards on 22 carries last Sunday for his fifth 100-yard game of the season. The Steelers are 17-1 all-time when Parker tops 100 yards, but he has never rushed for more than 63 yards in four career games against the Ravens.
Baltimore has the league's second-best rushing defense, limiting opponents to an average of 71.9 yards per game. It is also No. 2 in overall defense with 268.0 yards per game, second only to the Steelers' 256.9 yards.
Baltimore's offense has been unable to keep up with its defense, though, as its scored just eight touchdowns.
The Ravens haven't played since a disappointing 19-14 loss to Buffalo on Oct. 21, when Baltimore attempted three straight passes when needing only 1 yard to extend a drive in the closing minutes.
Two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ray Lewis openly criticized Billick's play-calling, but the coach has said that dispute is behind them.
"We're good, that's old news," Billick said. "We're ready to move on to the next challenge. We're good to go."
The Ravens' bye week could not have come at a better time, as they will get many of their key veterans healthy from injuries. Quarterback Steve McNair (groin, back), center Mike Flynn (knee), offensive tackle Adam Terry (ankle), defensive end Trevor Pryce (broken wrist) and cornerback Chris McAlister (knee) are expected to rejoin the starting lineup.
Baltimore has also won its last five games following its bye week, and has won six of eight after the bye all time under Billick.
McNair has missed the last two games, and was 39-of-55 (70.9 percent) with four touchdowns and two interceptions in the two victories over the Steelers last season. He is 11-4 all-time against Pittsburgh, throwing for 2,849 yards, 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Willis McGahee rushed for a season-high 114 yards and scored on a 46-yard run in the loss to the Bills. McGahee is third in the NFL with 639 rushing yards, and rushed for 79 yards and two TDs in his only career game against the Steelers, a 29-24 loss for Buffalo on Jan. 2, 2005.
By: Staff Writers - Email Us
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