Parker gives Steelers edge

Missing in action for part of the season, running back Willie Parker is emerging as a major factor for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the postseason.

The Steelers are 6-point home favorites over the Baltimore Ravens in today’s AFC Championship Game, and a physical slugfest is anticipated between the NFL’s top defenses.

Pittsburgh ranked No. 1 and Baltimore No. 2 in total defense for the regular season, leading oddsmakers to open the total for today’s game at 33. The number is up to 34, and Vegas Insider handicapper Jamie Tursini agrees with the line move.

Tursini does power ratings for totals, and he said the math and situational factors add up to 40 points being scored in the third matchup between the Ravens and Steelers.

Baltimore is playing its third consecutive road playoff game. Pittsburgh got a lot of production from Parker and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a 35-24 victory over San Diego a week ago.

"The Steelers are now as healthy on offense as they’ve probably been all season," Tursini said. "Roethlisberger and Parker played very well last week, and I expect them to move the ball against the tired and banged-up Ravens defense."

Parker, hampered by knee and shoulder injuries, missed five games and made little impact in several others. But he carried 27 times for 146 yards and two touchdowns against the Chargers.

Pittsburgh won the first two meetings, 23-20 in overtime at home and 13-9 at Baltimore on Dec. 14. Parker did not play in the September game, and he was not close to 100 percent in the second game.

Tursini, a documented 52-22 (70.3 percent) on his NFL plays at vegasinsider.com, said, "The weather forecast appears to be fine, with low winds, which is the biggest factor in scoring."

Another factor to consider is the reduced strength of the Ravens’ defense, led by safety Ed Reed and linebacker Ray Lewis. But Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, who topped the team with eight sacks and had a career-high 102 tackles, has a sprained right shoulder that might keep him out of the game.

Suggs was injured in last week’s 13-10 victory over the top-seeded Tennessee Titans, who gained 391 yards of offense but lost because of three costly turnovers.

"The Ravens are playing their third straight playoff game on the road, and their defense appeared to wear down in a big way last week," Tursini said. "This season, the week after teams played the physical Titans, they lost on average 25.3-18 for a total of 43.3 points. That included the Ravens’ 31-3 loss at Indianapolis in Week 6."

Since 2003 and including playoff games, Tursini said, teams playing a third straight road game lose 22-18.2 on average for a total of 40.2 points.

Tursini said Baltimore rookie quarterback Joe Flacco should not be a major hindrance to an over-the-total wager.

"I believe Flacco will be asked to throw more here, opening up the passing game as the Ravens need to stay out of the third-and-long situations," Tursini said. "The Ravens’ offense on the road ranks No. 4 in yards per point at 13.2. The Steelers’ defense at home ranks No. 14 in yards per point at 15.6."

A calf injury could limit Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu.

"The bottom line is that I believe we will see bigger plays from the passing game, as this is not the time for a conservative approach," Tursini said. "Flacco and Roethlisberger both have shown the ability to exploit the middle of the field when asked.

"Combine that with the opportunistic defenses and their ability for interceptions (52 combined), and we will see some big plays."

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

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