The most intense rivalry in football is the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. This weekend will be no exception. It will be for the right to do battle with the winner of the New England Patriots and New York Jets for the AFC championship on Jan 23.
The two teams won on the other’s home field during the regular season; finished with identical records (12-4) third best record in the NFL; have the best two defenses; and have very inconsistent offenses. With the exception of the Patriots, they are probably the best two teams in football. So what will be the difference Saturday?
Whoever is able to be consistent on offense will most likely win the game. Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco have been like twins. Both have the weapons around them to be very explosive but for some reason they have played just good enough to win. Roethlisberger has three exciting young receivers in Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, to go with veterans Hines Ward and Heath Miller. Flacco has veterans Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Todd Heap. Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Mewelde Moore carry the rock for the Steelers while Ray Rice and Willis McGahee handle the duties for the Ravens.
The defenses are headed by the greatest linebacker tandems in the NFL. For the Ravens, it’s Ray Lewis and company backed by an average secondary headed by a great safety, Ed Reed. For the Steelers it’s James Harrison and company backed by an average secondary headed by a great safety, Troy Polamalu. Both lines are underrated but as good as any in the league.
So it may come down to special teams, turnovers or penalties. And even though most are saying the Patriots are unbeatable, they’ve said that about someone every year and that team generally gets beat. That’s why they play the game. Just ask the Seattle Seahawks. Nobody gave them a chance of winning, but they came out and scored 41 points on the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, sending them home.
So the saying for the Steelers is… “Just play them the way you played the Cleveland Browns.” They showed more diversity in their offensive attack than they have all season. And they tried everything against the Browns. They were very creative. They threw to the young wide receivers, they threw to Mendenhall out of the backfield, and they ran around end instead of up the middle all the time, and Ben got rid of the ball creating fewer sacks. Yes, the Ravens and Patriots have better defenses, but there’s no way to know if a play is going to work if you don’t try it.
The same is true of the Ravens. They have the tools, but Flacco must show that he can make it to the next level. And for Ben, he has taken the Steelers to the Super Bowl, but this is a world of what have you done for me lately. The winner, barring major injury, stands a very solid chance of beating New England, if the Patriots get past the Jets.
Predictions: Steelers over the Ravens, Patriots over Jets, Atlanta Falcons over Seattle Seahawks, and Chicago Bears over Green Bay Packers. I was 1-3 last week with only the Ravens winning. I picked the Eagles, Saints, Colts and Ravens.