The Ravens seem to be the cat with 9 lives in these playoffs, they didn't convincingly beat the Dolphins although Chad Pennington tried his hardest to give them the game and last week they squeaked out a win against a Tennessee team that was without star RB Chris Johnson and turned the ball over 3 times in the red zone, not to mention the questionable no call with the play clock.
The Baltimore offense is not flashy not speedy and not exciting but it embraces what its role is (win field position and score points off turnovers). Led by rookie sensation Joe Flacco who has remained his calm cool and collected self during the playoffs. The main target in the passing game is WR Derrick Mason who is playing remarkable football in these playoffs, look for the veteran with surprising speed to have an impact in this game. The Ravens will need TE Todd Heap to step up and make an impact in the passing game to have any chance at winning. Heap has been almost invisible other than the big catch against the Titans. Expect O-Coordinator Cam Cameron to open up the playbook more in this game as they will need to score more points then they have been putting up in prior playoff games. RB/FB hybrid Leron McClain will get the bulk of the carries but expect Willis McGaheee and Ray Rice to get considerable time because of the difficulty teams have when running at the interior of the Pittsburgh defense. The O-Lines protection of Flacco will be vital because he does not respond that well to blitzes (Mia game) and a bad start on the road could prove fatal to their chance at the Lombardi trophy. On the defensive side of the ball though Ed Reed is their best player and Ray Lewis is their leader much of the Ravens hopes lie on the shoulders of DT Haloti Ngata. I'm not a big fan of Pete Prisco and sometimes find his columns downright stupid but this was one of his finer written pieces and he will be key in stopping a healthy "Fast" Willie Parker and the Pittsburgh running game. For the Ravens to have a chance they must bring the blitz and try to rattle Roethlisberger he holds on to the ball too long and Rex Ryan must try to exploit this. I expect Ryan to move his DBs up on the line of scrimmage and play a lot of press coverage as well. The Baltimore 'D" will need to create turnovers for their team to have a chance in this game. owever with all that's been said the 2 most important things that the Baltimore Defense has to worry bout ITS health and its stamina. Playing 2 playoff games on the road and especially a physically brutal one against the Titans they must be banged up. It will be interesting to see how Terrell Suggs plays coming off his shoulder injury. The Baltimore "D" will need their offense to give them some help by possessing the ball a bit. Expect a big game from Ray Lewis one of the best in the business who will be extra motivated to play his longtime rivals.
The Steelers looked sharp, decisive and in cruise control after a bit of a shaky start to their opening playoff game against San Diego. QB Ben Roethlisberger looked fully recovered from his concussion and Willie Parker had his trademark burst back.
Pittsburgh will try to establish the run early on but if stopped I don't see them having any problem putting the ball in the hands of Big Ben. The Steelers will need a big game from Hines Ward who is excellent at finding seems in the defense also Santonio Holmes will need to have 1 or 2 big plays as he did vs San Diego. When in the red zone look fro big TE Heath Miller who looked good in his comeback last week. The Steelers O-Line will have their hands full with Baltimore D-Line but expect them to hold their own. The Steelers defense which should be healthy and fresh was very impressive vs San Diego other than the first drive of the game they kept the San Diego offense in check. Their containment of Sproles was superb with his biggest play coming on a KR. Look for the James Harrison led defense to come out and shut down the Baltimore run game early and force Baltimore into 3rd and long situations. Also look for the Steelers to put S Troy Polamalu in the box and dare Flacco to beat them through the air. If this outstanding defense has any weakness it would be their secondary but they match up well against the Ravens receivers. Expect a big game from James Harrison in the middle who I expect to make a lot of tackles.
Neither teams have great special teams units, the worse situation being Mitch Bergers return to punting in Pittsburgh. Don't expect any special teams fireworks out of 2 well coached teams. As far as coaches go Mike Tomlin is one of the best in the business and was a GREAT hire from Minnesota his players always played hard for him and he made Minnessota famous for their suffocating run defense. John Harbaugh has done a great job as a rookie coach but I think the Steelers have the advantage. The Last intangible weather, the grubbier the game is the better for the Ravens they are the slower team and the team with less of a passing game, however Heinz field looked great last week and I don't expect it to deteriorate that much over 7 days.
I think all the lives run out on Sunday for the Ravens, Flacco finally implodes and the "D" finally wears down and lets Pittsburgh score TDs in the red zone.
Pittsburgh 30 Baltimore 13