Steelers lock up AFC North with 39-38 win over Ravens

Leave a comment

PITTSBURGH — Ryan Shazier was everywhere. His helmet rested on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ bench. His jersey too. His face and #Shalieve stitched on specially-designed cleats. His familiar No. 50 printed in white in the middle of a gold circle on T-shirts worn by teammates searching for a way to let Shazier know he is never far from their mind as he recovers from a spinal injury that put the linebacker’s blossoming career in jeopardy.

Shazier may never play football again. That doesn’t make him any less of a Steeler. And the men who have taken so much from him over the last three-plus years decided it was time they gave him something back in return: the AFC North title he ordered them to lock down without him.

Chris Boswell made a 46-yard field goal with 42 seconds left and Pittsburgh’s defense overcame a shaky night without their most dynamic player to shut down Baltimore’s last-gasp drive and hold on for a 39-38 victory on Sunday night to capture their third division title in the last four years.

“We are riding with that guy,” head coach Mike Tomlin said of Shazier. “He is strong. He is strengthening us.”

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

Looked like it.

The Steelers (11-2) trailed by 11 points going into the fourth quarter but capped an emotionally draining week to rally for their eighth straight victory, one they couldn’t wait to share with Shazier, who joined the giddy postgame celebration via Facetime.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to top 500 yards passing three times. Antonio Brown caught 11 passes for 213 yards, including two long gains in the fourth quarter that allowed the Steelers to recover after blowing an early 14-point lead. Le'Veon Bell had 125 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns .

“We can win a shootout against anybody,” Bell said. “I feel like we can score points whenever we need to.”

Good thing, because Pittsburgh might have to. The Ravens (7-6) rolled up 414 yards against the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense and recovered from a slow start to score on five consecutive drives and six out of seven to take a 38-29 lead on Javorius Allen’s second touchdown with 6:44 left.

Not much time against most teams. Far too much against the Steelers.

Roethlisberger and Brown, who is mounting a legitimate MVP candidacy, hooked up on a 57-yard connection set up an 11-yard sprint by Bell with 3:29 to go. The Steelers forced the Ravens into a three-and-out and Roethlisberger calmly led Pittsburgh within field goal range, including a 34-yard lob down the sideline to Brown that set up Boswell’s winner.

Baltimore’s Joe Flacco threw for 269 yards passing with two touchdowns and one interception but was strip-sacked by rookie linebacker T.J. Watt on the Ravens’ final snap.

“This one hurts,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We lose to them the same way we did last year. This one sucks, but we’ve got to get over it. Yeah, this one’s going to hurt but it’s best for us to have a short memory on this one because if we win out there’s a good chance we’ll be in (the playoffs).”

Shazier, who’s been in the hospital since injuring his spine in the first quarter of last week’s victory over Cincinnati, told his teammates to finish the work he helped start. Even as they celebrated an important step in a journey they hope will carry them deep into the postseason, they were making plans to keep Shazier involved, starting with a late-night trip to the hospital to deliver him his AFC North champions’ swag.

“We are going to give him the hat and T-shirt tonight,” good friend and fellow inside linebacker Vince Williams said.

When someone mentioned visitor’s hours were probably over, Williams repeated “tonight.” Then, it was home to rest before preparing for a showdown with New England next Sunday.

“That’s the crazy part about the NFL, things constantly change and you’ve got to keep rolling,” Williams said. “So you’ve got to find a way to roll with the punches even though it may be a haymaker, got to find a way to recover.”

HONORING SHAZIER

Linebacker James Harrison took to the field shirtless during warmups even as temperatures hovered in the low-30s, a nod to one of Shazier’s pregame rituals. When Roosevelt Nix drilled Moore on the opening kickoff, Nix lifted his jersey to show the T-shirt most of the Steelers wore at some point during the night.

BRING ON THE PATS

The Steelers fell to New England in a one-sided loss in the AFC championship game 10 months ago. They’re not exactly intimidated by the prospect of facing Tom Brady and company.

“You act like they’re coming in with Kryptonite, Superman and Batman and Avatars and stuff,” Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey said. “Heck yeah, it’s a regular football game, what do you mean? We’re going to go out there, tackle the football and run the football.”

UP NEXT

Ravens: Visit winless Cleveland next Sunday. Baltimore beat the Browns 24-10 on Sept. 17.

Steelers: Will try to beat Brady and New England for the first time since 2011 next Sunday.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Steelers betting favorites over rival Ravens for Sunday Night Football

Leave a comment

Ben Roethlisberger will face a defense that has given him fits without one of his best receivers on Sunday night, while the betting line is set right at the point where the Pittsburgh Steelers cause fits for bettors.

The Steelers are listed as a 4.5-point favorite against the Baltimore Ravens with a 43.5-point total for the Week 14 Sunday Night Football matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Over the last four seasons, Pittsburgh is 7-1 straight-up but 4-4 against the spread when favored by 3.5 to 6.5 points at home. The Ravens have been a consistent cover against AFC North competition, to the tune of 10-2 ATS in their last 12 games vs. divisional opponents. That trend might overlap with the Steelers being 5-0 SU in their last five divisional home games.

The Ravens are 7-5 SU and 6-5-1 ATS, but are 0-3 SU against teams presently in a playoff position. Whether they can rise to meet the level of the Steelers will likely start with whether the offensive line anchored by LT Ronnie Stanley and RT Austin Howard, which has allowed only one sack in the past two games, can shut down DE Cameron Heyward and the Pittsburgh pass rush (which is second in the NFL with 40 sacks).

If they hold up, QB Joe Flacco and targets such as WR Breshad Perriman and WR Mike Wallace could exploit a Steelers pass defense that has been rather generous at allowing long-strike completions since CB Joe Haden (fibula) went down.

Baltimore, through Alex Collins, is solid in the rushing phase. It’s hard to know what to expect from Pittsburgh’s run defense in the team’s first game since a serious injury to ILB Ryan Shazier (spine).

The Steelers are 10-2 SU and 6-6 ATS and Roethlisberger has an ugly 4-to-6 touchdown pass/interception ratio across his last five games against the Ravens. With CB Jimmy Smith (ACL/PED suspension) out of the picture, it is just a matter of when WR Antonio Brown will break off a big play. The Steelers will be counting on Eli Rogers or Martavis Bryant to fill in for the absence of JuJu Smith-Schuster (suspension).

Without Smith-Schuster, who is excellent at sealing off defenders as a run blocker, the Steelers might use more double tight-end sets with Jesse James and Vance McDonald. That could serve two purposes: opening lanes for RB Le'Veon Bell, who scampered for 186 rushing-receiving yards against the Ravens in Week 4, as well as seizing on the Ravens’ year-long struggles covering tight ends.

Pittsburgh, second to New England on the odds to win the AFC championship, is 1-3 ATS in its last four games against the Ravens, and 1-3 ATS over its last four, but between Brown, Bell and Heyward they have three difference-makers at key spots.

The total has gone over in six of the Ravens’ last eight games. The total has gone over in the Steelers’ last five games in Week 14.

For more info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the new OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Football is back! Here are five things to watch this NFL season

Leave a comment

After an offseason filled with players returning from retirement, celebration rule changes, and Gronk being Gronk, football is back!

Before the Hall of Fame game gets underway, here are five storylines to watch as the new football season approaches.

Heavy is the head that wears the Star

Dallas entered last season with a rookie backup quarterback that wasn’t expected to see a lot of time until Tony Romo got injured and a rookie running back that was supposed to make an immediate impact. Now, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott enter this season with expectations the size of Texas. The Cowboys are looking to win the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995, or when TLC’s “Waterfalls” was the No. 2 song on the Billboard charts.

Undefeated Patriots? It could happen…

Even Seahawks fans can admit that Tom Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever and Bill Belichick is one of the greatest coaches of all time. The amazing thing about the Patriots is their ability to reload (specifically from the Buffalo Bills, but that’s a longer story). Lose Martellus Bennett? Bring in Dwayne Allen. Lose LeGarrette Blount? Pick up Rex Burkhead. Top it off with an electric Brandin Cooks and the NFL’s best offense may be even better in 2017.

Falcons’ Super Bowl hangover recovery

28-3. The rallying cry of Patriots fans everywhere that makes Falcons fans cringe and want to crawl into a hole. Everyone talks about the Super Bowl hangover, but will a series of changes, including offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan departing to run his own team in San Francisco, be enough for the Falcons to return to the Super Bowl? Matt Ryan and Julio Jones will have a major role in that.

Kaepernick’s role

As of this post, Colin Kaepernick is still without a spot on an NFL roster. That could change at any moment. Kaepernick potentially has two landing spots: Miami Dolphins or Baltimore Ravens. Joe Flacco has been dealing with a back injury in camp, and the Dolphins are fearing the worst with Ryan Tannehill‘s knee injury Thursday. On the field, Kaepernick makes sense for both teams as a backup quarterback. But will one of these teams actually sign the former 49ers quarterback?

Raiders’ Resurgence

Before the Falcons’ brutal Super Bowl collapse, the Raiders held the crown for the most devastating way to have your season end, with quarterback Derek Carr breaking his leg two games before the playoffs started. Now, with Carr back and healthy, the Raiders look poised to make a big run and make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2002. One person who remembers that run well? Oakland native and new Raider Marshawn Lynch, who was a student at Oakland Tech high school.

Just think of it this way-you’ll now have football every Thursday until January, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the season.

Keep up with all of NBC Sports NFL coverage on Apple News and on the NBC Sports app