NFL Playoff Predictions: 10 Things To Watch For During Ravens vs. Steelers

Brian DiTullioSenior Writer IJanuary 9, 2011

NFL Playoff Predictions: 10 Things To Watch For During Ravens vs. Steelers

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    NFL Playoff Predictions now enter their second week as we look at the Ravens versus the Steelers.

    The Steelers now have had a week off, but if you watched that Kansas City game, it sure looks like the Ravens got the week off as well.

    Quarterback Joe Flacco faced some pressure in the first half but really came out swinging in the second half.

    The Steelers and Ravens have faced each other twice this season, and as division rivals, there's really very little these two teams can throw at each other that they haven't faced before.

    So here are 10 things to watch for in this weekend's matchup.

1. Troy Polamalu

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    Troy Polamalu is the heart and soul of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. When he's not on the field, the defense just isn't the same.

    Polamalu, in 14 games, had 63 combined tackles and one sack, meaning his nose for the ball still is as strong as ever. Versus the passing game, Polamalu was even more effective, defending 11 passes and grabbing seven interceptions. One of those picks was run back for a touchdown.

    Polamalu is a playmaker in every sense of the word, and if he's on the field, which at this point in time it is presumed he will be, then watching No. 43 will be one of Joe Flacco's primary responsibilities.

2. Ed Reed

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    The Ravens and the Steelers both have safeties to be feared, so look no farther than Ed Reed as the counterpoint to Polamalu.

    Reed has 16 passes defended with eight interceptions and one forced fumble.

    Reed is the poster boy for the term "Ballhawk," and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisber is going to have to be as aware of Reed as Joe Flacco will have to be of Polamalu.

3. The Steelers Offensive Line

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    At times this year, it seemed like the Steelers offensive line consisted of Maurkice Pouncey and a bunch of guys imitating offensive lineman—and not doing a very good job of it.

    The Ravens held Roethlisberger to 253 yards and one touchdown with one pick in their last meeting in December.

    Roethlisberger was sacked three times, had his nose broke and he spent a lot of the game running around the backfield.

    The Steelers squeaked out a 13-10 victory that week, but that guarantees nothing this weekend.

4. Ray Lewis and the Defensive Line

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    The Ravens defense, led by Ray Lewis, forced five turnovers and tore apart the Chiefs offense on Sunday, holding them to just 25 second half yards.

    The Ravens defense will be energized after this week's performance; the challenge will be keeping that energy up after a short week before heading into a very hostile Heinz Field.

5. The Rivalry

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    It's no secret these two teams don't like each other. The challenge will be to see who can hold their tempers longer.

    Each side will have players jawing, getting in each other's face, trying to get the other side to lose their temper.

    The pyschological battle already has begun. Now, it'll be time to see who wins the war for good in 2010.

6. Rashard Mendenhall

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    If you want to win in the playoffs, especially in a city like Pittsburgh, you have to run the ball and stop the run.

    The Steelers ability to run the ball against the Ravens defense will be key because their last meeting proved Roethlisberger can't do it by himself.

    Mendenhall had 19 carries for 45 yards in the Week 13 game. He has to do better than that this time.

7. Ben Roethlisberger

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    Ben Roethlisberger didn't have a bad day against Baltimore in Week 13, but he didn't have a spectacular day, and the offense only scored a total of 13 points.

    Thanks to a great defensive performance, that turned out to be enough, but the Steelers can't expect to only score 13 points this week and expect to win the game.

    Roethlisberger has to be smarter, sharper and more creative against a blitzing Ravens defense behind a very thin offensive line.

    The Steelers have a lousy offensive coordinator, but the Steelers win in spite of that. Head coach Mike Tomlin will have to be on his toes and on guard against poor play-calling, or the Ravens will squeak out a win like they did early in the season.

8. Joe Flacco

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    Joe Flacco can't have a bad game on Saturday. Flacco will have a big target on his head, and he'll have to have the best performance of his career if the Ravens are going to advance.

    Flacco got off to a slow start in Kansas City, but he quickly found his rhythm, and his second half numbers showed him getting stronger as the game progressed.

    Flacco can't afford to have a slow start against the Steelers; they'll make sure he never gets into a rhythm if he shows the slightest sign of weakness.

9. Mike Tomlin

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    Mike Tomlin has won a Super Bowl, and he has kept the Steelers at the top of the AFC North, not an easy task as the Baltimore Ravens always are nipping at their heels.

    A late season fade last year opened the door to a lot of questions, but Tomlin has taken a team with a questionable offensive line and made sure it didn't matter, putting together a defense so good, it's ranked first in points allowed.

    The Steelers win by just not letting the other team score, and the 13-10 win in Week 13 over Baltimore only underscores that.

10. John Harbaugh

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    John Harbaugh is a coach who almost certainly will have a Lombardi Trophy in his house one day.

    Harbaugh has kept the Ravens in contention in the very contentious AFC North, and despite some setbacks, the Ravens are in the playoffs again and facing the Steelers for a third time.

    Harbaugh will not be outcoached, and he's very hard to surprise.

    The chess match between Harbaugh and Tomlin will be as interesting to watch as the action on the field.