The Pittsburgh Steelers enter their final regular season game needing a win and some help to claim the AFC’s final playoff spot. Standing in their way are the playoff-bound Baltimore Ravens, who plan to rest several key starters despite having a chance to improve their playoff positioning.
Ravens Rule Out Jackson, Other Starters
The Ravens have officially ruled out six players for Saturday’s game, including quarterback Lamar Jackson and standout rookie defensive back Kyle Hamilton. Jackson has missed the past five games with a knee injury. Despite Jackson possibly being healthy enough to play, head coach John Harbaugh decided to hold him out to avoid further injury ahead of the playoffs.
Other Ravens’ starters ruled out include running back J.K. Dobbins, tight end Mark Andrews, and cornerback Marlon Humphrey. Dobbins and Andrews have battled injuries in recent weeks, while Humphrey suffered a concussion last Sunday.
|Ruled Out for Ravens
|Odell Beckham Jr.
Harbaugh admitted it was a tough decision weighing playoff preparation against chasing the AFC’s top seed:
“You wrestle with it; it goes round and round,” Harbaugh said. “In the end, this is what we feel is best for our team going forward into the playoffs.”
Backup QB Poses Threat
Facing Baltimore’s backups may seem favorable, but Tyler Huntley showed his talent in three 2021 starts in place of Jackson. Against Green Bay, Cincinnati, and the L.A. Rams, Huntley posted a 2-1 record while averaging 270 passing yards, 63 rushing yards, and totaling 5 touchdowns.
ESPN analyst Mina Kimes warns that the Steelers shouldn’t overlook the 26-year-old veteran:
“Tyler Huntley is going to light up the Steelers. Their pass defense ranks 30th in yards allowed per attempt, & Huntley has posted better numbers than Lamar in a smaller sample size,” Kimes tweeted.
Behind a makeshift offensive line, Huntley will need to use his mobility against a fierce Steelers pass rush led by linebacker T.J. Watt. Veteran defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi knows Pittsburgh can’t let their guard down:
“We just have to stop the run and try to make [Huntley] one-dimensional because he can also run the ball. And we have to get after him.”
Playoff Hopes on the Line
Despite Baltimore’s missing stars, the 7-point underdog Steelers face long odds to keep their season alive. Updated playoff picture simulations give Pittsburgh just a 26% chance of clinching the AFC’s No. 7 seed.
For that to happen, Pittsburgh (8-8) must defeat Baltimore (13-3) and hope the New York Jets (8-8) lose to the Miami Dolphins. Even with second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett showing promise late in the season, most analysts expect the Ravens’ stout defense to lead them to victory.
“The Ravens are the better overall team and I don’t think the week off for some of their stars or Huntley starting over Jackson will change that,” writes USA Today NFL reporter Tyler Dragon.
Pro Bowl wide receiver Diontae Johnson understands what’s at stake but remains confident:
“It’s win or go home right now. I feel like everybody is locked in. Everybody knows the assignment for this week. We’ve got to win.”
Steelers-Ravens Final Score Predictions
|Ravens 23, Steelers 20
|Ravens 24, Steelers 16
Veteran Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph will make his second start this season while Pickett recovers from a concussion. Rudolph expects the Ravens to rely heavily on the run game while attempting to limit mistakes:
“[Huntley’s] going to lean on that run game like they always have the past couple of years. And do enough to keep us off-balance throwing,” Rudolph said this week.
Changes in Store This Offseason?
Once one of the NFL’s most feareded rivalries, the Steelers and Ravens have experienced very diffent trajectories in recent years. Pittsburgh finds itself starting over with a rookie quarterback after missing the playoffs the last two seasons. Meanwhile, Baltimore claimed the AFC’s No. 2 seed despite its starting quarterback missing significant time.
If the Steelers’ season ends short of the postseason again, major changes could follow this offseason. Potential moves might include replacing offensive coordinator Matt Canada or parting ways with key veterans from past championship teams.
Star linebacker T.J. Watt thinks Pittsburgh isn’t far off from contending status with the right moves:
“I don’t think we’re very far off. I really don’t,” said Watt. “I think we have a lot of talent. We have a good foundation.”
Even if Jackson were to return from injury Saturday, Harbaugh reiterated that the team’s starters need rest before the playoffs get underway:
“Our guys are ready to go win a football game. All we have to do is win this game. I’m not worried about the next one; I’m worried about this one. Everybody else can figure it out.”
So while the Ravens gear up for another playoff run, Mike Tomlin, T.J. Watt and the Steelers enter a must-win game Saturday to keep their season going. Despite Pittsburgh’s uphill battle against Baltimore’s backups, Diontae Johnson and the Steelers aim to remain alive for at least one more week.
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