The Baltimore Ravens have specialized in forcing their opponents into mistakes that give them a clear path to victory. That has been accentuated in their two playoff games versus the Dolphins and Titans. That has been their recipe for success.
Pittsburgh knows they cannot turn the ball over and hope to beat them. The Steelers trailed in both of the games they played against Baltimore, and that forces you to take chances, which is exactly where the Ravens want you.
The Steelers came out on top barely in both games, but you can’t count on doing that every time against defense as good as Baltimore’s.
It will be bitter cold in Pittsburgh on Sunday night, and this will really be a throwback game that is what the NFL is all about. There is no doubt that a mistake in a crucial situation will decide this game as points will be difficult to come by.
The Ravens don’t ask Joe Flacco to do a lot. They rely on their running game, their defense giving them field position, and creating turnovers.
Ben Roethlisberger will have to be mindful of where Ed Reed is at all times when he drops back, and he has to get rid of the ball to eliminate the chance of a fumble.
Baltimore has some injury issues to deal with at key positions that may be a factor. Terrell Suggs, the Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker may play, but is not at 100 percent, and their starting cornerback, Samari Rolle, probably won’t play. If Suggs can’t play or is ineffective, that will be huge in this game.
Suggs is a great athlete that makes plays all over the field and helps disrupt everything that the opposing offences want to do.
He gets after the quarterback, plays the screens about as well as you can, has cover skills, and is a perfect compliment for Ray Lewis. It will be easier for the Steelers to run the ball if Suggs is not in the game.
Le’Ron McClain is dinged up as well, but will play. The Steelers are pretty healthy, so they have the edge in that area.
What will probably decide this game is the performance of Pittsburgh’s offensive line. That is the one area of their team that has been weak this year. If they can’t give Big Ben a little time to get the ball downfield, it will be a long day for Steeler fans.
If they don’t show up, that means sacks, interceptions, and points for the Ravens. If they play like they have been over the last month, Pittsburgh should win.
The Steelers need to do what they do best on defense: Stuff the Ravens running attack and force Flacco to beat them with his arm. Flacco is good, and a budding star, but he is still a rookie.
Pittsburgh has proven that they can get to him and cause turnovers in their previous meetings, so it will be just as important for him not to turn the ball over either.
The Steelers have shown they can come back from a double-digit lead against Baltimore. The Ravens can’t say that, and they are not equiped to be able to do it.
This will be a close, physical dog-fight, but unless the Ravens defense scores points, The Steelers will win. They are the better team.
Steelers 17, Ravens 10
The Arizona Cardinals have found their defense this post-season and look like a completely different team. Playoff football is all about getting stops and being opportunistic on defense, and that is what Arizona has done.
They will have their hands full with Donovan McNabb and the Eagles. He is not a rookie, and he is not Jake Delhomme. McNab has come up big against two of the best defenses in the NFC, and that leads me to believe he will not shrink in this game.
He has made the right plays at the right time this post season and he has a defense that has been styfling opposing offenses.
The Cardinals have done it on both sides of the ball as well, and Kurt Warner is playing the kind of football that is reminding everyone why he was a winning Super Bowl quarterback.
It helps that he has Larry Fitzgerald and company to throw to, and they have lit it up this post-season. How the Eagles choose to defend the Cardinals' passing game will go a long way towards deciding this game.
The Eagles are good at pressuring quarterbacks, and Warner is not very mobile. I don’t anticipate Warner having a lot of time to get the ball deep down-field often.
I expect the Cardinals to put in a game plan that tries to take advantage of Philadelphia’s aggressiveness on defense. If they are successful, then they have a good chance to win.
Arizona’s defense has really been one of the big surprises of this post-season. They have done a great job stopping the run, and pressuring their opponents into making errors in the passing game after under-achieving badly in the regular season.
Stopping an Eagles running game that is mostly absent anyway should not be much of a problem.
Shutting down the Eagles air attack is a different matter. McNabb spreads the ball around very well, and if his offensive line gives him time he is capable of carving up Arizona’s secondary. Arizona is a different team than when they played Philadelphia earlier in the year, but I still think the Eagles will prevail.
Eagles 28, Cardinals 20