NFL Playoff Scenarios: For Ravens, Conjuring Memories of 2008

Jake RubinCorrespondent IDecember 21, 2009

BALTIMORE - DECEMBER 20:  Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens runs the ball against the Chicago Bears at M&T Bank Stadium on December 20, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Larry French/Getty Images

Christmas has seemingly come early for the Baltimore Ravens this year.

After dismantling a pitiful Chicago Bears team yesterday, the Ravens emerged to find themselves in prime position for an AFC Wild Card spot in the post season.

The Ravens unwrapped four precious gifts from their playoff competition as Jacksonville (7-7), Miami (7-7), and the New York Jets (7-7) all turned in Week 15 losses. Denver (8-6) was also upstaged late at home by Oakland, leaving the Ravens with a cup of eggnog and a claim to the conference's fifth seed heading into a pivotal Week 16 showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7) this Sunday.

“Hopefully, we’re building momentum at the right time,” Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said after the win. “That’s what we’re trying to do. But then again, every week stands on its’ own.”

In conjuring memories from last year’s improbable late season playoff push, and subsequent AFC Championship game appearance, the Ravens have again positioned themselves well for yet another post season berth.

Standing in their way, as they seemingly always do, are the Steelers. The Steelers looked like a team dead in the water after a disastrous loss to the Cleveland Browns turned the knife in the wound of a five-game losing streak.

But the Steelers responded in a big way yesterday. Ever-resilient, the defending champs showed that although their season is on life-support, as Head Coach Mike Tomlin eloquently claimed after the game, they are not done yet.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger engineered a sub-two minute drive that culminated on a game winning touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace in the corner of the end zone as time expired. This gave the Steelers a 37-36 victory over the Green Bay Packers. The throw and catch evoked déjà-vu for anyone that saw it.

"The way the game ended was incredible, especially that last play," Steelers center Justin Hartwig said, comparing the play to Roethlisberger's six-yard pass to Santonio Holmes that beat Arizona for the NFL title last season. "It was obviously pretty reminiscent of the Super Bowl."

But the Steelers are still on the outside looking in at the AFC playoffs. Their faint hopes hinge on this week’s game against the Ravens, a fierce rivalry that seemingly gets bloodier by the year. Having already beaten the Steelers once earlier in the season, the Ravens know that they need to play their best football in December.

“We’re going to come out with a new challenge against our arch rivals next week at their place, and it’s going to present its own set of challenges," Harbaugh said. “We have to go out there and each week, we have to play the best football we can play in all three phases.”

In the season of giving, a win over the Steelers could give the Ravens the best Christmas gift they could imagine: More games in January.