The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers will face off on Saturday in the final game of the 2023 NFL regular season. While the Steelers are still alive in the AFC playoff race, the Ravens have already been eliminated and will rest several key starters.
Ravens Rule Out Jackson, Other Starters
The Ravens officially ruled out six players for Saturday’s game, including quarterback Lamar Jackson, wide receiver DeSean Jackson, tight end Mark Andrews, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, and safety Kyle Hamilton . Jackson has missed the last five games with a knee injury and will not play in the regular season finale despite returning to practice this week .
With Jackson out, Tyler Huntley will make his sixth start of the season at quarterback . Huntley has played well in relief of Jackson, but the Ravens’ offense has struggled without their MVP quarterback. In his five starts, Huntley has thrown for 1,022 yards, 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions while completing 67.4% of his passes .
In addition to the six players already ruled out, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was downgraded to out on the final injury report. Beckham needs just 1 receiving yard to earn a $500k contract incentive, but will not play to avoid injury risk before hitting free agency this offseason .
Without many of their top offensive weapons, the Ravens will rely on their rushing attack and strong defense to compete with the Steelers. Running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards both returned last week from knee injuries that cost them the entire 2022 season.
Playoff Hopes on the Line for Steelers
While the Ravens are resting players, the 8-8 Steelers need a win on Saturday to have any chance of reaching the playoffs. Pittsburgh is currently 9th in the AFC standings, behind the 8-8 Patriots and Dolphins who hold tiebreaker advantages. The Steelers would clinch a wild card spot with a win and losses by Miami and New England.
Quarterback Kenny Pickett will try to lead Pittsburgh to a season-finale upset victory. The rookie first-round pick has shown improvement in recent weeks, including a 3-touchdown performance last Sunday night against the Ravens’ division rival Browns. Pickett will need to continue his efficient play for the Steelers to pull off the road upset.
According to most sportsbooks, the Steelers are 7-point underdogs with the total points line set at 35.5 . The model from SportsLine, which simulates every NFL game 10,000 times, is predicting a 20-17 Ravens victory . While Pittsburgh likely needs this win more, Baltimore’s strong defense on their home field presents a difficult matchup.
Recent History Favors the Ravens
The Ravens have dominated this AFC North rivalry recently, winning four straight and eight of the last nine matchups against the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s last win over Baltimore came in December 2020.
Last Sunday night, Huntley put on a show by accounting for three total touchdowns to lead the Ravens past the Browns 16-14. Meanwhile, the Steelers kept their playoff hopes alive with a 28-14 home win over the Panthers.
Dating back to 2008, Pittsburgh holds a slight 15-14 edge over Baltimore. However, the Steelers’ decline after Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement has shifted control of the rivalry to the Ravens. Second-year coach Mike Tomlin hopes this young Pittsburgh team can start to close the gap by pulling off an upset victory on Saturday.
Snow Forecasted to Impact Game Conditions
The latest weather forecasts are predicting snow at kickoff that could make throwing the ball difficult for both offenses . Temperatures are expected to be in the low-30s, with winds at 10-15 mph. If the snow persists, points could be hard to come by and turnovers may decide the outcome.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin downplayed the potential impact of the wintry weather :
“We’re not going to blink in regards to the conditions and the circumstance. That’s January football.”
Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald also expressed no concerns over the forecast:
“It doesn’t really change much. The grass will still be green, the ball will still be brown.”
These AFC North rivals are accustomed to playing in cold conditions this time of year. Saturday’s weather could end up favoring the Ravens’ league-best running game over the Steelers’ improving passing attack.
Huntley Eager for Starting Opportunity
Despite Baltimore being locked into the AFC’s 6th playoff seed, don’t expect them to lay down against their division rivals. Several Ravens players and coaches said this week that they still have plenty to play for in the regular season finale .
Tyler Huntley in particular is eager to make the most of his starting opportunity :
“Just trying to take advantage of every chance I get. You don’t get a lot of chances in this league, so I’m going to try and maximize mine.”
The 24-year-old quarterback is set to hit free agency this offseason and could be playing for a potential starting job elsewhere. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh praised Huntley’s growth and development this season:
“He’s definitely getting a lot better. Decision-making, accuracy, command of the offense – all those things are improving.”
If Huntley performs well on Saturday, he could earn himself a lucrative contract in the upcoming free agent period.
Conclusion & What’s at Stake
In conclusion, the Ravens are expected to put up a fight at home against their division rival Steelers, despite having little to play for and resting several starters. Backup QB Tyler Huntley will lead a depleted offense against a much-improved Pittsburgh defense. Meanwhile, the Steelers’ season hangs in the balance, needing a win and some help to potentially clinch a playoff berth in Mike Tomlin’s first year without Ben Roethlisberger. Snowy conditions could hinder both passing attacks and lead to a low-scoring, run-heavy contest.
Ultimately, the Ravens are favored by about a touchdown at home. But their motivation level remains in question. Don’t expect them to reveal whether they plan to ‘rest or rust’ ahead of next week’s playoffs until the pads start popping on Saturday afternoon. This late-season rivalry matchup contains plenty of pride and postseason implications.
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