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The final week of the 2023 NFL Season is here and it is the last chance for teams to make a last impression in the AFC or NFC playoffs. There are still divisions to be won and wild card spots to be claimed. Many of these have already been eliminated from postseason play but may want to go out on top. As teams and players are going to perform at their highest level, now is a great time to make some bets and pick the best opportunities to win some earnings through DraftKings.
One of the top games for week 18 of this season is the AFC North divisional battle between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. This is going to be one of the most interesting battles this weekend. Serious playoff indications are on the line, not just for the Steelers, but also for most teams in the AFC. The Steelers have a chance to secure one of the final two seeds in the AFC wild-card spots if they can defeat the Ravens. Baltimore has already secured the #1 AFC seed, home-field advantage, and a first-round bye. They have already declared that six starters on their team will not be playing, with three of them inactive due to rest. Those three players are quarterback Lamar Jackson, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and guard Kevin Zeitler. If there's a chance to beat the Ravens and secure the last playoff spot this season, it would be when facing the Ravens' backup quarterback, Tyler Huntley.
The Steelers feel confident in their chances to compete in the AFC season with their roster. The biggest problem for the team was that they couldn't get out of their way with the back coaching from offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Two days after the 13-10 loss to the Browns on the road, the Steelers fell to an overall record of 6-4 and made the final decision to relieve Canada. This was supposed to help the team offensively, but the injury to starting quarterback Kenny Pickett leveled the team as they would lose three games under backup quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, defaulting to 7-7. Pittsburgh was able to pick up the pace and win their previous two games against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Seattle Seahawks, led by longtime Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph.
The Ravens have been one of the most complete and competitive teams in the NFL since the start of the season. The Rams started the season with a 3-2 overall record but have maintained a level of dominance after that mark. Among those dominant wins were a 38-6 win over the Detroit Lions and a 37-3 win over the Seattle Seahawks. After the Week 10 33-31 home loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens have not lost the game as they continue to play dominantly across the board. In the final two games of the season, the Ravens showed they are an elite Super Bowl contender with a 33-19 road win over the San Francisco 49ers on Christmas Day and a 56-19 win over the Miami Dolphins at home on New Year's Eve.
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Mason Rudolph has been the most explosive quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season, as he's not held down by the playcalling of Matt Canada and has experience with this team. When he took over for the inconsistent Mitchell Trubisky, Rudolph led the Steelers to two huge wins to put them in a good playoff position.
In the victories against the Seahawks and the Bengals, Rudolph had managed to complete 35 out of 41 passing attempts, gaining a total of 564 yards, score two touchdowns, and have one interception. Not only has he proven to be an efficient game manager for the Steelers, he is a valuable asset to drive this team forward.
The Steelers are taking on a Ravens team that has a significantly injured defense, including their star players in the secondary. It is highly unlikely that the Ravens will be playing star safety Kyle Hamilton and quarterback Marlon Humphrey. This makes the Ravens' secondary much more manageable to attack with the Steelers’ talented and productive receiver corp.
While the Ravens are expected to be missing some of their star defensive backs for the game against the Steelers, they still have some of their other starters and experienced players on the field. Baltimore didn't get the top-ranked scoring defense based on one or two players alone. This Baltimore defense is completely loaded with high-caliber talent that can make plays consistently throughout the game.
If the Steelers are having trouble scoring touchdowns, they can count on their reliable kicker, Chris Boswell. This season, Boswell has made 28 out of 30 field goal attempts, with his only misses happening in losses to the Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars when the team was down by more than one score.
He also had nine games this season where he kicked two or more field goals in a game. He is coming off a stellar 3-for-3 game last week at the Seattle Seahawks. If there is one player to rely on for the Steelers on special teams, it will be Boswell.
After a few seasons of inconsistencies due to terrible performances from the offensive line and terrible play calling, running back Najee Harris is only 77 yards away from before 1000 yards. He is the leading rusher and leading touchdown scorer on the ground for the Steelers this season, with 7.
In goal-line situations, Harris is going to be the go-to back as opposed to Jaylen Warren, who will be more of an outside rusher. He is the player most expected to account for a touchdown in this game against the Ravens.
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What: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland
When: Saturday, January 6, 4:30 PM E.T.
How to Watch: ESPN, ABC, ESPN+, NFL Network, YouTube TV
Michael Hanich is a sports journalist/analyst with a wide variety of experience in the newspaper and digital field. He has a love for all sports. The leagues that he covers are College Football, the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, College Basketball (men’s and women’s), the MLB, Lacrosse, Volleyball, and the WNBA.More info on Michael Hanich
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