What I find most interesting about the AFC Division matchups is the fact that both of them are inter—division matchups. These two match ups have teams that really know ,(and hate), each other.
The teams split their matchups this year, and both teams won on the road. Of course, some of the stats may be a little skewed there because Ben Roethlisberger didn’t start in the first matchup. But both matchups were defensive battles, with neither team scoring more than 17 points in a game.
Because this is probably going to be a defensive matchup, I thought I might look at the defensive numbers throughout the year. Both teams have studs at safety. Ed Reed of the Ravens leads the league in interceptions with eight, despite missing six games. The Steelers’ stud is Troy Polamalu, who has seven interceptions in the regular season, and he missed two games. Both defenses have a safety that can change the game. Polamalu is the X-factor in this game. If he is out of the game for some reason, I would give the win to Baltimore, easily. I look forward to sitting down and watching this game to see which man makes the biggest difference.
From a team perspective, both defenses are ranked in the top 10 overall. The Steelers are ranked second overall, ranking first against the run and twelfth against the pass. The Ravens are ranked tenth overall, ranking fifth against the run and twenty—first against the pass. Both teams are vulnerable against the pass. Perhaps these statistics are skewed a bit because opponents have little success with the run and are forced to rely on their passing game. Either way, I expect both offenses to turn to the pass to score, which should lead to at least one interception for Reed or Polamalu.
Speaking of the pass, both teams have a franchise QB. Roethlisberger ended the season ranked fifth in QB rating, and Flacco was right behind him at seventh. Flacco threw for 400 more yards than Big Ben, which says something about Ben’s arm as Ben was suspended for the first four games. Flacco and Big Ben seem to be judicious with the football. Flacco threw 10 interceptions all year, and Ben threw just five. Either QB could carry his team to the championship round.
Which QB has the best supporting cast?
I wish I could say Ray Rice would be the difference in the game although his performance against the Steelers in both games was horrid. He had only 29 total yards in the first matchup and 50 in the second. He did not score against the Steelers this year. I don’t expect him to be a factor in this game.
Mendenhall, on the other hand, may be the biggest offensive factor in the game. He had nearly 80 yards rushing and two TDs in the first game. He did not produce close to those numbers the second time, so the Ravens seemed to have found a way to shut him down. I expect Mendenhall to score at least once and carry the ball for around 60 yards. That’s around five first downs a game. It’s one drive, and in this rivalry that one drive could prove to be the difference in the game.
The Steelers have a top five receiver in Mike Wallace. Wallace had over 1,200 yards receiving, and also also have Hines Ward and an explosive young receiver in Emmanuel Sanders, who came on strong at the end of the year. The Steelers have weapons on all sides of the ball, and no defense can attempt to shut one part of the team down.
But the Ravens receiving corps is no joke. Mason and Boldin have accounted for 1,600 yards and 14 TDs, and had a total of seven different receivers catching a TD pass this year. I expect Flacco to air it out, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Ravens begin the game through the air and use that to setup the run.
The heritage of the Ravens defense runs strong. They’ll find a way to keep the game close, and it might come down to a field goal. I have a little more faith in the Ravens special teams, simply because Harbaugh is a former special teams coach. I pick the Ravens to win like they did in week 4, 17-14.
Sit back and enjoy a defensive slugfest! It should be fun to watch!