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NFL Thanksgiving: Ravens Host Steelers

An AFC North showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens headlines the NFL Thanksgiving 2013 schedule.

An AFC North showdown between the Steelers and Ravens headlines Thanksgiving in the NFL

The Baltimore Ravens will host the Pittsburgh Steelers in the final game of Thursday’s three-game Thanksgiving schedule, with both teams desperate for a win.

Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md.

While the addition of a third game to the Thanksgiving schedule back in 2006 may have been frowned upon and shunned by football purists, it’s hard to argue against this year’s primetime game being the best on show.

Both sides are currently tied for second-place in the AFC North, with the Steelers owning a tie-breaker advantage thanks to Week 7’s 19-16 victory over the Ravens. With another nine teams within one-game of a playoff berth, winning on Thursday is a necessity.

Baltimore (5-6, 4-1 home) will look to build on this past weekend’s win over the New York Jets. The 19-3 victory made it two wins in three weeks for John Harbaugh’s side, which had lost three straight and four of five prior to that. If the Ravens are unsuccessful against the Steelers, the team’s playoff hopes will slump big time. The Steelers will not only be one-game ahead in the standings, they’ll also own a 2-0 advantage in the head-to-head, which will be all but insurmountable.

Pittsburgh (5-6, 2-4 road) has gone from a 0-4 start to looking like a wild card frontrunner in the space of seven weeks. The Steelers have won five of the last seven, including three games in a row. What’s more, the team has four of its last five at home and three remaining against division opposition, which it has already recorded a 2-1 record against. For Mike Tomlin and Co., a win on Thursday would be a huge step, but not the final step by any means, towards January play.

The Steelers have been happy with the input from rookie running back Le’Veon Bell, who has proven to be a threat on the ground and through the air. Bell leads the team with 455 rushing yards and has caught the ball for 256 yards. He had a career-high 93 rushing yards against the Ravens in Week 7, and will be looking for the same again in what promises to be a bruising game on Thursday.

Bell’s counterpart in Baltimore, Ray Rice, has had less to write home about this season. He is averaging just 45 yards per game rushing, tallying four touchdowns – the same as Bell has in few games – in the process. Whether the Ravens see Rice as a viable option against the Steelers remains to be seen.

One tactic Harbaugh may employ is the wildcat. Last week against the Jets, the Ravens used backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor on 12 snaps, including five wild cat formations. The approach wasn’t exactly welcomed by Joe Flacco, who later described it as “a high school offense”. Could there be dissention in the ranks?

Thursday night’s game marks Baltimore’s second Thanksgiving game. The Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers 16-6 back in 2011.

Pittsburgh meanwhile is 2-4 all-time in Thanksgiving games, but 0-3 since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The Steelers will take to the field on Thanksgiving for the first time since 1998 on Thursday. That game – a 19-16 loss to the Detroit Lions – was marred by Detroit being controversially awarded the pre-game coin toss despite Pittsburgh guessing correctly.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens odds for 11/28/2013

Baltimore (-150) opened as a narrow favorite over Pittsburgh (+130) on the moneyline but bettors have been taking the Steelers to win since.

Pittsburgh holds a 23-15 edge over Baltimore in the all-time head-to-head and has won the last two meetings between the sides. Prior to that, the Ravens had won three straight. Over the last ten meetings between these divisional rivals, both teams have emerged with five victories. The Steelers have won two of the last three played at M&T Bank Stadium.

The spread opened at 3 and has subsequently slipped to 2.5.

Baltimore (6-5-0 ATS) has fared slightly better than Pittsburgh (5-6-0 ATS) against the spread this season, but both teams have covered the spread in three straight games. Pittsburgh has covered in five of the last seven, coinciding with its straight up wins this season. The Steelers are 7-3-2 ATS in their last 12 meetings with the Ravens, and 4-1-0 ATS in their last five visits to Baltimore.

The over/under opened at 39 and has since risen to 41.

Both Baltimore (3-7-1) and Pittsburgh (4-7-0) have favored the under this season, with each seeing the total go under in four of their last six games. However, the total has gone over in four of the last six meetings between the sides and four of the last six games the teams have played at M&T Bank Stadium.

AFC_standings_wk12 For a full list of Week 13 NFL odds, click here.

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