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1st and 10: Ten predictions for Ravens-Steelers

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1st and 10: Ten predictions for Ravens-Steelers

1. Ray Rice will not rush for 100 yards. ...

The Steelers bottled up Rice at Heinz Field two weeks ago, holding him to 40 yards on 20 carries. The Steelers rank fifth in the league in rushing defense, allowing 91.5 yards a game. Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley (ankle) is out, but the Steelers will bring their 'A' game defensively and make Rice earn every yard he gets.

2. ... but he will get his 20 touches.

Don't expect Rice to catch any check-downs on fourth-and-29, but expect him to have the ball in his hands plenty. Since 2010, the Ravens are 26-3 when Rice has at least 20 touches. This year, he's topped 20 touches in only six of 11 games. One was at Pittsburgh, where he had 20 rushes and five receptions (for 53 yards). Expect him to be effective as a rusher and receiver again.

3. Joe Flacco will complete at least 60 percent of his passes.

Maybe it's something in the water, but Flacco's throws simply seem to have more zip and more accuracy at home. This season, Flacco has a completion percentage of .665 at home and .553 on the road.  Flacco, though, was 20-for-32 (.625) for 164 yards at Heinz Field two weeks ago.

4. Anquan Boldin will have at least five receptions.

The Steelers bottled up Torrey Smith last meeting (one catch, 7 yards), but could not do the same with Boldin, who made eight catches for 79 yards. In six career games against the Steelers, Boldin has averaging 6.5 catches and about 91 yards

5. The Ravens will have a touchdown drive of fewer than 40 yards.

The Ravens are facing the league's No. 1-ranked defense, which is likely to have Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu back, but the Ravens are overdue to find the end zone. They have one offensive touchdown in their past two games, both on the road. Things just run more smoothly at home. Look for a turnover to set them up with a short field.

6. Jonathan Dwyer will have a rush of 20+ yards.

If the Steelers can keep the game close, expect them to try to keep the ball on the ground, and Dwyer is the starter this week. He had 12 carries for 55 yards against the Ravens two weeks ago and will test the Ravens' 26th-ranked run defense.

7. The Ravens will intercept Charlie Batch.

Making his first start of the season last week for the Steelers, Batch was picked off three times by the Browns. If the Ravens can get a decent lead, Batch will be forced to throw often, and the Ravens secondary will be ready to pounce.

8. The Ravens will win the turnover battle.

One major reason for the Ravens success, even when the offense is struggling, is that they aren't giving the ball away. The Ravens have just one turnover in their past four games and are at plus-12 in turnover differential for the season, fourth-best in the league. Not only did Batch throw three picks last week, but no Steelers running back could hold on to the ball. The Steelers fumbled eight times at Cleveland, losing five.

9. Charlie Batch will be sacked at least twice.

Paul Kruger dominated Steelers rookie tackle Mike Adams the last time these teams met, and Adams is out with an ankle injury. he will be replaced by rookie Kelvin Beachum, who has played in three games this season. Guard Willie Colon (knee) is questionable. The Ravens had six sacks last week, and they will pin their ears back and go after the 37-year-old Batch in passing situations.

10. Ravens 27, Steelers 13

If the Steelers can run the ball effectively -- and hold on to it -- they can stay in this game even without Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers inexplicably went away from that last time these teams met; Byron Leftwich threw 39 times, and the Dwyer-Mendenhall-Redman running trio totaled just 24 carries in a three-point game. The loss of Roethlisberger was too much to overcome at Heinz Field, and it will be in Baltimore as well. Five of the last seven in this series have been decided by three points. This time, though, the Ravens roll to their 16th straight home win.

 

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The Ravens' future isn't Joe Flacco - but they don't want to face him in the AFC

The Ravens' future isn't Joe Flacco - but they don't want to face him in the AFC

The Baltimore Ravens made it clear after their Wild Card loss that Lamar Jackson would be their quarterback going forward, bringing the somewhat official end to Joe Flacco's 11-year career with the team.

So what's next for the Super Bowl MVP?

Retirement after a fruitful NFL career is an option, but in a league where teams are desperate for a seasoned veteran, Flacco could find himself with another affluent contract. The Ravens, too, could get something nice in return.

"Let's start with a second-round pick," former Redskins GM Charley Casserly said. "It's negotiable, we're going to keep him in pencil. Who am I not going to trade him to? Well, I may not have a choice. I may only have one trade pick. I don't want him in the AFC. I don't want this guy costing me a playoff position next year."

There are several AFC teams in need of a QB, too. The Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars would jump at the chance to get Flacco under center.

But it may not be that easy for the Ravens.

"If the team wants to renegotiate his contract, Flacco controls the trade," Casserly adds. "He can simply say, 'no' [and the] Ravens may have to just release him and let Joe go his own way." 

The former GM adds that he expects something to be settled come March. Why? Casserly places Teddy Bridgewater and Nick Foles as hotter free agency pickups for QB needy teams, and with the 2019 NFL Draft not offering a ton in terms of first-round quarterbacks, the Ravens may have to act fast in order to get a return on their investment. 

One team that is definitely in need of a QB1 is the Washington Redskins. The idea could interest Flacco as his family of seven could stay put in the DMV area. But can the Redskins afford Flacco? 

The team is facing a huge cap charge with Alex Smith, whose career is in question after suffering a catastrophic leg injury, and a rookie they can mold could make more sense than a 34-year-old Flacco.

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Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

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Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

The Ravens have reportedly agreed in principle to a new contract extension with head coach John Harbaugh, a move already being praised by national pundits everywhere. 

It was nearly a month ago that the Ravens announced Harbaugh would be returning as the team’s head coach in 2019, which was noteworthy considering his status as a potential lame duck head coach.

In the same release, the team announced they were working towards a contract extension with Harbaugh, whose current deal was set to expire next year.

Despite reports from national NFL insiders, including Jason La Canfora and Peter King, that Harbaugh might prefer to hit free agency as a highly sought-after head coach after the 2019 season, it appears the Ravens will keep him in Baltimore for the foreseeable future. 

This news comes on the heels of a busier-than-usual coaching carousel, with a quarter of the 32 NFL teams changing head coaches in the last month, including two AFC North rivals. Harbaugh almost certainly would have been the cream of the crop among coaching free agents no matter when he became available, so the Ravens were looking to lock him up long term.

After a tough November home loss to the Steelers that put the team at 4-5, Harbaugh was asked about his job security, and he remained steadfast and confident.

"I've never been someone who's worried about keeping a job," Harbaugh said. "It's always been, for me, [about] doing the job. I've got a bunch of great coaches and a bunch of great players that bust their tails every day to do the best job they can. I feel really good about the way this team has been coached for the last 11 years, and for the last number of weeks we've been in the season. So, there are no regrets. Never been any regrets here with me."

After that game, the Ravens rattled off six wins in seven games to make the playoffs, and many players credited Harbaugh with keeping the team together. It was prior to Week 16 when the front office announced Harbaugh would be returning no matter how the season ended, but the strong finish and AFC North title certainly made the decision easier.

A coach with a special teams background, Harbaugh is an anomaly in the current era of young, offensive-minded head coaches. He won Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, and holds a 104-72 career record in Baltimore.

The terms of the new deal have not yet been released, but it will be interesting how many years the team is committing to Harbaugh.

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