Who will prevail between the Michael Vick-led Steelers and the winless Ravens? Don Banks makes his pick for Week 4 Thursday Night Football below.
• Last week: 11–5; Season: 29–19 (.604).
• Best pick in Week 3: Carolina 26, New Orleans 21 (actual score Panthers 27–22).
• Worst pick in Week 3: Miami 27, Buffalo 24 (actual score: Bills 41–14).
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Here’s the NFL for you: Precisely 37 days ago, no team deemed Michael Vick worthy of even competing for its backup quarterback job, which is why he remained unsigned during training camp until late August, when Pittsburgh’s Bruce Gradkowski went down with dislocated finger on his non-throwing hand. Now the 35-year-old Vick has just been tossed the keys to the Steelers’ high-octane offense and told not to gun the engine too much, just keep it running until Ben Roethlisberger returns from his left knee injury.
Easier said than done. At this point in his eventful career, Vick has tended to look worse the more he plays, and the defending AFC North champion needing him to take over for four to six weeks is a big ask. Especially since the Steelers in the coming six games play some pretty formidable defenses, even if you don’t include the current version of the Ravens on that list: at San Diego in Week 5 on Monday night, then home against Arizona, at Kansas City, home against Cincinnati and Oakland. The Steelers’ playoff hopes could die a grisly early death in that span if Vick can’t produce and at least keep Pittsburgh in games on the strength of its defense and rushing attack.
The Ravens have been an enigma in September, and it’s not hyperbole to say their season is essentially on the line tonight at Heinz Field, because there’s probably no path to the playoffs at 0–4 in a conference where I foresee New England, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Denver, and someone from the AFC South as likely to reach the postseason. Still, if Baltimore can get out of Pittsburgh with a win, John Harbaugh’s team is very much alive, and could be back to .500 within a blink of an eye with a home game against Cleveland and a trip to San Francisco coming in Weeks 5 and 6.
For all the Ravens’ issues, they have held a second-half lead in all three of their losses, and in two of those games they were up with less than three minutes to play. Baltimore has lost to Denver, Oakland and Cincinnati, and those clubs are a combined 8–1, with only the Raiders’ Week 1 home loss to the now 3–0 Bengals marring that record. The Ravens have been consistently close to victory, but can’t quite seal the deal.
So I’m saying there’s a chance. And with Vick in the lineup instead of Big Ben, that chance has increased rather dramatically. Roethlisberger has sat out games against Baltimore six times in his career, and Pittsburgh is a ugly 1-5 against its most bitter rival in that situation. But I still think the Steelers find a way to get it done at home, running the ball effectively and getting just enough play-making from Vick to keep Baltimore reeling.