AFC Championship Prediction: "Big Ben" Has a Big Edge

Joe KleiberCorrespondent IJanuary 15, 2009

When we take a look at the AFC Championship game Sunday, the first thing that comes to mind is defense. The Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers have the top two defenses in the NFL and after watching the first games against each other in the regular season, you know it's going to be a physical showdown.

Who has the edge and who will win this game?


Prediction: Ravens 13 Steelers 14

I think the Steelers are the most complete team out of the remaining four teams. Some people might say it's hard to beat a team three times in one season, but that not true. If anything this third game gives the Steelers an advantage since they are division rivals and have played them twice already.

If they were facing the Titans, they'd be at a disadvantage, because they only faced each other once during the season and the Titans put a whooping on them.

The Steelers have a huge edge at quarterback, because Ben Roethlisberger knows how to get it done in the playoffs. He is six and two in the playoffs and has an enormous experience advantage over Joe Flacco.

Some people are saying Flacco is the best rookie qb ever in his first season, but let's face it, Flacco hasn't had to do much in the two Ravens playoff wins. He has thrown one touchdown pass and one rushing touchdown. Both victories have been because of the defense and not the offense.

Sure Flacco has shown a resilient attitude and has not been rattled, but the Titans and Dolphins defenses are not in the same league as the Steelers. The Steelers are on a whole other level. They also have a lot of the same veterans that won the Super Bowl in 2005.

The Ravens also have some experienced veterans on the defense like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, but the Titans showed us they can be beaten threw the air and if it weren't for some crucial turnovers by the Titans and the Chris Johnson injury, the Titans probably would have won the game.

The Steelers also have a few other weapons to throw at the Ravens, like a healthy Willie Parker and the blazing speed of Santonio Holmes. I think Holmes has a big game here, because he will get into the Ravens secondary with his speed and on kick/punt returns.

The Ravens will keep it close, but the overall balance and toughness of the Steelers will be too much for Baltimore.


Boom: Both defenses

These two defenses will put a licking on anybody and they played well against each other this season and so far in the playoffs. The Ravens team flows and rolls with the defense, so expect them to force a few turnovers and get to Ben for a few sacks.

The Steelers may make Flacco's game a nightmare, because he struggled against them during the regular season and may get rattled in a hostile environment.


Predictions: Ravens defense: 3 sacks 1 int 1 fumble 14 pa; Steelers defense: 4 sacks 2 ints 1 fumble 13 pa


Santonio Holmes

After seeing Justin Gage blow by Ravens defenders for a big game last week, you can bet the Steelers will have to attack the Ravens via the air. Holmes is a perfect weapon for them, because of his speed and great hands.

I think the Ravens will focus their attention on Hines Ward and Willie Parker, which could open things up deep for a few bombs for Holmes.

Prediction: 4 catches 80 yds 1 td


Heath Miller

Miller will be Ben's security blanket and Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler (before his awful fumble) were open quite a few times last week against the Ravens. Miller had a nice game against the Chargers and should come up with some big grabs.

Prediction: 4 catches 50 yds 1 td


Ben Roethlisberger

Big Ben struggled a bit against the Ravens this season but found ways to beat them in the end. If the Steelers are to win this game, they'll have to throw, because Willie Parker won't find enough running room to do enough damage. Ben always steps it up in the playoffs so expect a big game.

Prediction: 278 passing yds 2 tds 1 int


Derrick Mason

Mason always comes to play and is a tough receiver like Hines Ward. Mason will have to come up with some big catches, because he's the key to the Ravens passing attack. He's been a nice target for Flacco all season so he will be targeted often and may come up with a touchdown like last week.

Prediction: 5 catches 90 yds


Bust: Joe Flacco

I am a big fan of Flacco, but I think his magical ride ends here. He's played well so far, but hasn't had to win the game by himself. He may have to here since the Steelers shut down the run. Flacco may succumb to the pressure for the first time in a long time and may make some rookie mistakes.

The Steelers will bring the house and the kitchen sink at Flacco all night.

Prediction: 178 passing yds 2 ints


Willie Parker

Parker had a huge game last week against the Chargers, but the Chargers defense is nowhere near as good as the Ravens. He's struggled against them in the past and during the regular season so don't expect a huge game.

Parker might play well enough for the Steelers to win and keep them from being one-dimensional, but he's not going to have as big of a game as Chris Johnson had in the first-half last week.

Prediction: 66 rushing yds


Sleepers: Le'Ron McClain, Nate Washington

McClain is the type of back that could give the Steelers come trouble. He's a tough, big and bruising back that could break some gains up the middle. He's the key to the Ravens rushing attack and even though he'll be banged up, he's going to play and could get a big touchdown at the goal-line.

McGahee has been used a lot lately, but he won't do the damage McClain can.

Washington broke through for some big gains last week and could've had more yardage if it weren't for some pass-interference penalties against San Diego. I can see him making one or two huge catches for some big yardage.

Nobody else on the Steelers has more yardage-per-catch than Washington. He's been an unsung hero for them and will make some noise.

Predictions: McClain: 77 rushing yds 1 td; Washington 3 catches 80 yds


This will be a fun game to watch and if it's anything like the Ravens-Titans game last week and like their two regular season meetings, you can bet it'll be a nail biter.


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