AFC Championship Preview: Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Samuel SicaAnalyst IJanuary 12, 2009

After two weeks of playoff match ups in the books, four teams have proven to be relentless in their pursuit towards a Super Bowl Title. The Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens, and Pittsburgh Steelers all have the talent and abilities necessary to win this weekends NFC/AFC Championship games and advance to the Super Bowl. The question that will soon be answered this weekend is who will end up victorious and represent their respected conferences in the Super Bowl.

The NFC Championship game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals has all the makings of a great offensive shootout while the AFC Championship game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers proves to be another classic battle between two great defenses.

The game that I am going to take an in-depth preview of though is between the Ravens and the Steelers. This game is set up to be a wild one since this will be the third time that these teams will have faced each other this season.

Way back in week four of the season, the Ravens traveled out to Pittsburgh for a Monday night showdown to see who was the supreme powerhouse in the AFC North. As advertised, the game proved to be a physical battle that came down to the wire and needed to be settled in over time. The Steelers ended up victorious that night with the help of a Jeff Reed 46-yard field goal.

The game was tight throughout and seemed to be going Baltimore’s way most of the night until a key moment that swung the momentum in Pittsburgh favor. Baltimore’s rookie quarterback Joe Flacco was having a great night throwing for 192 yards and a touchdown but Flacco was stripped of the ball towards the end of the third quarter by the defensive player of the year James Harrison.

This would prove to be the play of the game as the fumble was recovered by Pittsburgh’s LaMarr Woodley and returned for a touchdown.

During week 15, the Ravens were out for vengeance as the Steelers came to town for another grudge match between two bitter rivals. This game was set up to be a defensive struggle between the leagues two best defenses. Pittsburgh had the number one defense at the time with Baltimore either second or third in every major defensive category.

The game lived up to its expectations as the Ravens held a 9-6 lead late into the fourth quarter but Pittsburgh would get the ball back with one last chance to drive down the field and either tie or win the game in regulation. Pittsburgh started the drive at their own eight yard line and with the help of a 12 play drive, drove down the field and scored a touchdown with under a minute remaining in the game.

The drive was not without controversy though as the referees reviewed the touchdown for quite some time in order to make the right decision. This game had big playoff aspirations as well due to the fact that both teams, with a victory, could end up winning the AFC North and earning a first round bye in the playoffs instead of earning a fifth or sixth seed in the playoffs as a wild card.

The touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Holmes ended a 12-play drive with Roethlisberger completing seven out of his 11 passes and sealing another division championship for the Steelers.

In my opinion, I believe that Baltimore was cheated out of a victory over Pittsburgh with the help of the referees giving Pittsburgh the touchdown that put the Steelers ahead. The ruling on the field was that the receiver did not have the ball break the plane of the end zone, which essentially placed the ball just shy of the goal line.

I did not see enough inconclusive evidence that would force me to believe that the ball broke the plane of the end zone giving the Steelers a touchdown and the lead. This would have put the ball just shy of the goal line leaving Pittsburgh with a tough decision to make on fourth down and goal with the game on the line.

This weekend is something that Baltimore has looked forward to for the past month. The Ravens are out for redemption after losing two close games they feel should have been victories in their favor. This game is set up to be another defensive showdown with the most physical team ending up victorious in my book.

This might very well be the most physical game between any two teams in NFL history. It is no secret that these two teams do not like each other very much so be prepared for a battle down to the very last second.

It is very difficult for a team to win three straight games over an opponent so I expect the Ravens to come out ready to fight and upset the Steelers at home on Sunday night. The Ravens will emphasize on weaknesses that the Chargers proved evident and beat the Steelers at their own game.