Preparing to play your fiercest rival on a short week is a daunting enough task, but the Baltimore Ravens are also dealing with the fallout from the Ray Rice saga as they get set to host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night. Baltimore lost at Cincinnati in its season opener and faces the prospect of falling two games behind the Steelers in the AFC North. Tight games are the norm in the rivalry, with nine of the last 10 regular-season meetings decided by three points or fewer.
Rice’s contract was terminated Monday after videotape from TMZ surfaced showing the running back knocking out his then-fiancee with a punch to the head, which had led to a two-game suspension by the league. “We knew we were going to be without him anyway for the first two games, so our focus is on the Steelers and nothing else,” Ravens wideout Torrey Smith said. “It’s way worse for him than it is for us. We just have to get ready for the next one.” Pittsburgh blew a 24-point halftime lead before beating Cleveland on a last-second field goal in its opener.
TV: 8:25 p.m. ET, CBS, NFL Network. LINE: Ravens -2.5. O/U: 44
ABOUT THE STEELERS (1-0): Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell also was involved in a notable off-field transgression when he was arrested on marijuana possession and DUI charges last month, but he sparkled in the opener by rushing for 109 yards and a TD and catching six passes for 88 yards. Bell wasn’t the only second-year player with a strong debut. Markus Wheaton, who did next to nothing as a rookie, had six receptions for 97 yards and provides another favorable option for Ben Roethlisberger (365 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) with a pair of huge catches on the winning drive. An aging defense was a major issue last season for the Steelers and it remains a concern after the unit was gouged repeatedly by Cleveland’s no-huddle offense.
ABOUT THE RAVENS (0-1): An already unsettled running back situation became further muddled when Bernard Pierce – Rice’s replacement – was benched after a costly fumble and replaced by scat back Justin Forsett, who acquitted himself well with 70 yards and a TD on 11 carries. With rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro the only other option in the backfield, Pierce will likely remain the starter but Baltimore needs a more balanced attack. Quarterback Joe Flacco was forced to attempt 62 passes last week, finishing with 345 yards with one TD and one pick. Veteran Steve Smith had an 80-yard scoring pass in his Ravens debut while a bend-but-not-break defense allowed five first-half field goals before surrendering a 77-yard winning touchdown pass.
1. The Ravens announced Tuesday that they will allow fans to exchange the No. 27 jersey of Rice at stadium stores Thursday.
2. Flacco is 11-1 at home in September while Roethlisberger has a league-best 1,784 yards passing in Thursday night games since 2009.
3. Baltimore won a memorable Thanksgiving night matchup (22-20) last season, which featured Steelers coach Mike Tomlin drawing a $100,000 fine for sideline interference on a kick return.
PREDICTION: Ravens 23, Steelers 20