First Call: Steelers’ playoff chances shrink after MNF result; Ravens unclear on Lamar Jackson’s health

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ slim playoff chances were hurt during “Monday Night Football.” The Ravens aren’t tipping their hand about who will play quarterback when the Steelers visit Baltimore on Sunday night. One of the Ravens isn’t thrilled about that game being flexed. And the Penguins get ready to renew acquaintances with the New York Islanders.

All that in Tuesday’s “First Call.”


Looking for Lamar

The Baltimore Ravens (10-5) are still playing without Lamar Jackson. He’s dealing with a knee injury. The former MVP quarterback was hurt during a 10-9 win against the Denver Broncos on Dec. 4.

The Ravens then came to Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers 16-14 with a combination of Tyler Huntley and Anthony Brown at quarterback. Jackson didn’t play the following week against the Cleveland Browns (a 13-3 loss) or at home against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday (a 17-9 win).

Now the Ravens are set to battle the Steelers (7-8) Sunday night with Jackson’s health still in question for the rematch in Baltimore. The Ravens have managed just two touchdowns in those three full games without Jackson in uniform.

On Monday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked if Jackson will practice this week leading up to Sunday. All he said was, “We’ll just have to see.”

Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Jackson is dealing with a sprained PCL. As ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley reports, that is normally a three-week injury. Hensley also points out that in the three games without Jackson, Baltimore is averaging 12.0 points per game, 30th in the NFL during that stretch. Also during that span, the Ravens are 21st in total yards (310.7), 31st in passing (111.7) and 32nd in red-zone efficiency (22.2%).

The Ravens have already clinched a wild-card berth. However, they can still win the AFC North with victories over the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals in the final two weeks of the season.


Queen not keen on time change

Speaking of the Steelers-Ravens game, linebacker Patrick Queen is not thrilled that the NFL flexed that contest to be a Sunday night game. It had been scheduled as a 1 pm start.

Quickly, folks on Twitter inferred that Queen was questioning the need to flex the game since the Steelers are only 7-8. Queen tried to tamp down that narrative.

The game that got flexed out Sunday night was the “Battle of LA” game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Los Angeles Rams. The 9-6 Chargers have already wrapped up a wild card and can’t win the AFC West. The 5-10 Rams have been eliminated from postseason competition.


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No help

The Chargers’ 20-3 win over the Indianapolis Colts (4-10-1) on Monday night was a blow to the Steelers’ already minuscule playoff hopes. By virtue of that victory, Los Angeles (9-6) sewed up the fifth AFC playoff slot. The Ravens (10-5), Bengals (11-4), Kansas City Chiefs (12-3) and Buffalo Bills (12-3) have also qualified.

Either the Jacksonville Jaguars (7-8) or the Tennessee Titans (7-8) will claim the AFC South. That makes six of seven AFC vacancies set to be filled.

So the Steelers (7-8) are only in the hunt for a final wild-card opening. Their chances of making the playoffs now stand at just 2% according to the FiveThirtyEight.com playoff predictor.

In order to make the playoffs, the Steelers must win their last two games against the Ravens and Browns. In addition to that, the 8-7 Miami Dolphins must lose both of their last two games or lose once and tie once (against the New York Jets and New England Patriots).

The 7-8 Steelers also can’t finish tied with either the Jets or Patriots because they lost to both of those teams head-to-head. The Steelers also lost to the Dolphins.


Nothing easy

When the Penguins face the New York Islanders on Tuesday night, don’t expect either team to light it up on the power play.

Those two clubs feature two of the best penalty-kill units in hockey. The Penguins’ PK is clipping along at 84.8%. That’s tied with the San Jose Sharks for tops in the NHL. The Isles’ man-down unit is at 81.7%, sixth best in hockey.

Part of the reason why is that both teams are getting good goaltending. Ilya Sorokin’s .925 save percentage is tied with former Penguin Matt Murray and Colorado’s Alexandar Georgiev for fourth place in the NHL. Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry’s .920 mark is ninth.

Sorokin is also ninth in the NHL in goals against average at 2.37. Jarry is 20th at 2.67.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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