Late For Work 12/27: Should Steelers Bet On Ravens Losing?

Injury creates kicker controversy, nothing wrong with adding Mason, Ravens best of best.

Posted by Sarah Ellison on Tuesday, December 27th, 2011 at 9:12 am | Categories: Late For Work, Sarah Ellison

Should Steelers Bet On Ravens Losing?

The Ravens and Steelers both kick off at 4:15 p.m. Sunday.

That means Pittsburgh will have to make a decision about playing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is recovering from a high ankle sprain, without knowing if it even has a chance to improve their playoff seeding.

If the Ravens win, the Steelers will keep the No. 5 seed no matter what. So there would be no reason to risk further injury to Big Ben.

But if the Ravens lose, the Steelers have a chance to take the AFC North crown. A bye and home-field advantage would certainly be worth an injury risk.

“The fact that the Bengals can get in with a win, which gives them even more motivation to beat the Ravens, should make the Steelers more willing to load up the cannon in order to beat the Browns,” wrote ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio. “Thus, while it was reckless for the Steelers to go with Roethlisberger only 11 days after he suffered the sprained ankle, Sunday’s game invites a calculated risk that, if it works out, could generate a great reward.

“If it doesn’t pay off, the Steelers will be in no worse shape, since they’re locked in as the fifth seed. Unless, of course, Roethlisberger aggravates the ankle with as little as six days to get ready for a game in Denver or Oakland.”

Then again, backup quarterback Charlie Batch did lead the Steelers to a 27-0 win over the Rams, so he could do it again against the 4-11 Browns.  

“In the end, it won’t be an easy call,” said Florio. ”Maybe the answer will be to use Roethlisberger until the game against the Browns seems to be decided — or until the scoreboard shows that the Ravens are handling the Bengals.”

Injury Creates Kicker Controversy

Imagine a scenario where the Ravens are down two points Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals with eight seconds left on the clock.

Baltimore has the chance to win the game, the division and a first-round bye with a 45-yard field goal.

Who do you want jogging onto the field to attempt the score: Shayne Graham or Billy Cundiff?

“That could be the decision the Ravens have to make this week,” wrote CSNBaltimore.com’s Bo Smolko.

They have a minor kicker controversy on their hands as they try to win in Cincinnati and secure at least one home playoff game.”

Cundiff is perfect on field-goal tries at home this season, but that doesn’t matter this week because the season finale takes place on the road, where he is 10 for 19. Those numbers don’t exactly inspire confidence.

On the other hand, Graham has a short resume in Baltimore. All we have to judge are his two makes against the Browns Saturday from 43 and 48 yards – at M&T Bank Stadium. It’s not a lot, but it’s a solid start. He also filled in for the Dolphins for two weeks and made four of his five field-goal attempts.

Plus, Graham is familiar with the stomping grounds at Paul Brown Stadium where he kicked for seven years.

“If the Ravens need a 50-yard field goal to win the game, neither kicker has impressed,” wrote Smolko. “Cundiff is 1-for-6 this season from 50 yards and farther. Graham hasn’t attempted a 50-yarder since 2009, his last of seven seasons with the Bengals.”

This wouldn’t be an issue if it weren’t for Cundiff’s sore left calf – a healthy Cundiff is a Pro Bowl kicker. But he hasn’t had a normal practice routine for two weeks and if he’s not 100 percent Sunday, what will his 2-of-5 December field-goal mark become?

“Conventional wisdom says you don’t lose your job because of injury,” wrote Smolko.

One thing is for sure – Head Coach John Harbaugh will not make a hasty decision. He said Monday night that he will wait to see how his starting kicker looks this week in practice before he pulls the trigger one way or another.

Harbaugh said Monday that he would not carry two kickers if Cundiff is healthy.

Nothing Wrong With Adding Mason

The Ravens’ leading receiver Saturday against the Browns was their starting running back.

Ray Rice led the team in catches (three) and receiving yards (48). After him was rookie receiver Torrey Smith (two catches for 38 yards), then running back Ricky Williams (two for 24), tight end Ed Dickson (two for 14) and fullback Vonta Leach (two for 11).

The Ravens don’t have plans to look for help outside their current stable of receivers, but CSNBaltimore.com’s John Eisenberg wouldn’t see a problem with it.

There’s nothing wrong with the Ravens possibly bringing Derrick Mason back to give [quarterback Joe] Flacco another target in the short term,” wrote Eisenberg.

“Honestly, they need the help.”

Ravens Are Best Of The Best

The Ravens have the potential to go undefeated in the AFC North this year. And that is no small feat considering just how strong the division is.

Not only was this the best season in the 10-year history for the AFC North, according to ESPN, but it is the only division this year that has three teams who will finish with a winning record and all have the chance of advancing to the playoffs.

The Ravens have swept the 11-4 Steelers and have the chance to sweep the 9-6 Bengals, who have gone through “one of the most unexpected turnarounds” this season.

“If this doesn’t convince you that the AFC North is the best division in the NFL this season, here’s another reason: the AFC North had the best record outside the division,” wrote Jamison Hensley. “With Week 17 featuring only division games, the final non-division records are set. The AFC North had a 25-15 mark outside the division, which is one win better than the NFC North (24-16).

Quick Hits

  • “The Ravens really missed Lardarius Webb in their blowout loss to the Chargers,” wrote Eisenberg. “He played a reduced role that night because of a turf toe injury. Back in the lineup Saturday, he was in shutdown mode, intercepting a pass and defending four others.” [CSNBaltimore.com]
  • “Fact: Sunday’s opponent, the Bengals, have a 1-6 record in games against teams that currently have winning records,” added Eisenberg. “Their lone win was over the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 6.” [CSNBaltimore.com]
  • PMGleason: Ravens have a history of finishing strong, having won 5 straight regular season finales and 9 of their last 11. [Twitter]
  • KVanValkenburg: I sort of chuckle at Ravens fans who say “Why are our special teams so terrible?” and then “Jimmy Smith shouldn’t be playing special teams!” [Twitter]
  • The Ravens’ road to playoffs is clear: they better earn home field Sunday. [CBSSports.com]
  • “Get a sense there’s something missing in the offense?” wrote Peter King. “I mean, 284 yards against Cleveland, and three points in the last 35 minutes?” [SI.com]
  • Are the Ravens headed in the wrong direction? [ESPN]

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