2010 NFL Playoff Divisional Preview: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

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2010 NFL Playoff Divisional Preview: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Polamalu's health is in question.

Think these two teams know each other?

Ravens vs. Steelers has become one of the NFL's most fierce rivalries, and the playoff atmosphere is never lost.

So, as you can imagine, the intensity between the two when they do meet in the playoffs is something to be seen.

How will this matchup shake out?

 

Why the Baltimore Ravens Will Win

Baltimore took the first game between the two in Week 4, 17-14 in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers didn't have Ben Roethlisberger in that game, but the pass defense was the real issue.

Joe Flacco completed 24 of 37 passes for 256 yards with a touchdown while completing passes to seven different receivers.

The Steelers can't be run on, so Flacco is going to have to have some success through the air for the Ravens to have a realistic shot at winning.

Another key to Baltimore's success will be bottling up Rashard Mendenhall and the Pittsburgh running game.

Mendenhall ran for under 75 yards in both of the matchups during the regular season, and, if you're the Ravens, you want the Steelers to have to beat you through the air.

Offense always seems to come at a premium when these two face off, and, as always, turnovers will be a huge factor.

Baltimore essentially lost the Week 13 matchup when Troy Polamalu blitzed unblocked off the left side and was able to strip-sack Flacco, leading to a Steelers game-winning touchdown drive.

The Ravens' defense is what made their 30-7 win over the Chiefs last week look so easy, as they repeatedly forced Matt Cassel to make ill-advised throws into tight areas, resulting in three interceptions.

 

Baltimore's Keys to Success

1. Limit Troy Polamalu's effectiveness

2. Limit the Steelers' ground game

3. Give Flacco time

I mentioned turnovers above, and Joe Flacco, for the most part, has done a nice job of protecting the ball throughout his short career.

The Steelers' defense is notorious for their activity, though, so staying poised in the pocket is no small order.

 

Why the Pittsburgh Steelers Will Win

The last time these teams met in the playoffs was the 2008 AFC Championship Game, which the Steelers won by nine.

Pittsburgh should be able to shut down Ray Rice and Baltimore's rushing attack, but it also must force Joe Flacco out of the pocket.

Flacco has shown a nice ability to make impromptu plays on the run, but the Steelers can't allow him to sit back there and find a rhythm and get comfortable.

Pittsburgh's linebacking corps has always had a reputation for causing trouble in the backfield, and this weekend will be no exception.

It isn't easy to run on the Ravens, but it can be done from time to time.

KC had decent (while not great) success against them on the ground last week, and Mendenhall is a bullish-type back that matches up well with the Ravens.

While Ed Reed continues to play at an All-Pro level, Baltimore's weakness certainly lies with the secondary.

Mike Wallace seems to be good for at least one huge play every week, so he should be able to use his incredible speed to his advantage.

 

Pittsburgh's Keys to Success

1. Don't make dumb mistakes on offense

2. Flush Joe Flacco to the outside

3. Force turnovers

 

This game will be won with defense, plain and simple.

Whichever defensive unit has the better day will be the defensive unit of the team that ends up winning this game.

Verdict: Steelers 16, Ravens 13

For NFL picks, fantasy football advice, and 2011 NFL Draft coverage, head over to NFL Soup!

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