Of all the rivalries that have been formulated over recent years, the most physical and intense happens whenever the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers clash. These teams are not only defensive juggernauts on a regular basis but have very similar offensive makeup as well. Take a look at how these teams, who both finished 12-4 in the regular season, stack up against one another.
Baltimore is very skilled on the defensive side of the ball, highlighted mainly by veterans Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. These two, along with several other extremely talented players, made the Ravens fifth overall. The Ravens' defense only allowed 93.9 yards per game on the ground and gave up 16.9 points per game on average, which was good enough for third in the league.
For all the accolades that Baltimore gets for the defensive efforts, they should also get some for the offensive side of the ball. With a heavy emphasis on feature running back Ray Rice, along with the steadily improving passing attack led by Joe Flacco, the Ravens are difficult to defend. Factor in a balanced receiving corps, and you have one of the best offensive teams on any day.
Baltimore is a dangerous foe when the defense is making plays and the offense is moving up and down the field. Protecting the ball and minimizing the opportunities of the Steelers will be crucial if the Ravens plan to come out of this contest with a victory. If the Ravens can neutralize the Pittsburgh run game and create turnovers while keeping the Steelers defense on edge, expect them to advance.
Pittsburgh, much like Baltimore, is extremely skilled on the defensive side of the ball and were among the top of all defenses in every category. The Steelers were the best rushing defense behind a deep talent pool of linebackers led by Lawrence Timmons. In fact, the 62.8 yards per game rushing defense was staggering in historic dominance.
Following the pattern, Pittsburgh also has a great offense that tends to be overlooked. There are more high profile players on this side of the ball, mainly Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben sat out the first few games of the season but brought stability to the Steelers passing game in his return. Don't forget about Pittsburgh's feature back, Rashard Mendenhall, and his ability to take over a game.
The Steelers are superb on defense and well balanced on offense. As with the Ravens, Pittsburgh will need to protect the ball on offense while limiting Baltimore defensively. If the Steelers can contain Ray Rice without committing too many players to the box and defend the pass, expect the Ravens offense to stall and a Pittsburgh victory.
As far as rivalries go, this could be one of the toughest to decide upon as both teams can be equally productive. Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin have been known to take games over with ease, but the Steelers have a one-two punch in Hines Ward and Mike Wallace who are just as explosive. Likewise, Terrell Suggs could cause havoc and be an X-factor much like his counterpart LaMarr Woodley.
In any case, I believe that Pittsburgh has the slightest edge as long as they have Roethlisberger under center. This will be another special game that goes the distance and could easily be decided by the kickers.
I predict a Steelers victory over the Ravens by a margin of 20-17, highlighted by a Mike Wallace score of at least 40 yards.