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AFC Divisional Preview: Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 02:  Wide receiver Hines Ward #86 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after scoring a touchdown with wide receiver Mike Wallace #17 against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on January 2, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Adrian FedkiwAnalyst IIIJanuary 15, 2011

The Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers played each other in the postseason in the 2008 AFC Championship Game. Pittsburgh won, 23-14.

The Steelers have won five of the last seven meetings.

Baltimore looked like the best team out of the wild card weekend games. They went to Arrowhead and romped Kansas City 30-7 last week.

 

Ravens Rush Offense vs. Steelers Rush Defense

Bal—114.4 (14th) vs. Pit—62.8 (1)

If you're Baltimore, you're targeting a 3-yard average per carry against the best run defense not only this year, but the past decade. 

Rice is most dangerous in the passing game, with 556 receiving yards. The Steelers need to eliminate Rice as a receiver.

Rice is very shifty in space. This is where Troy Polamalu's amazing open field attacking ability comes into play.

 

Ravens Pass Offense vs. Steelers Pass Defense

Bal—208.4 (20) vs. Pit—214.1 (12)

This is where the game will be won in my opinion. Head coach John Harbaugh finally let his third-year quarterback loose. Joe Flacco threw the ball 35 times, completing 24 for 265 yards and two touchdowns last week.

The Ravens use an underneath passing with tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley form the best pair of 3-4 outside linebackers in football.

Left tackle Michael Oher and right tackle Marshall Yanda need to play well against their pass rush.

 

Steelers Rush Offense vs. Ravens Rush Defense

Pit—120.2 (11) vs. Bal—93.9 (5)

Haloti Ngata, a 3-4 right defensive end, is unblockable in one-on-one matchups. The Ravens structure fronts in order to let Ngata get on an opposing blocker one-on one. 

Just like I stated about the Ravens, the Steelers are looking for three yards per carry against a tough defensive front. 

 

Steelers Pass Offense vs. Ravens Pass Defense

Pit—225.1 (14) vs. Bal—224.9 (21)

The question here is can Pittsburgh get enough protection for Ben Roethlisberger

The Miami (OH) standout does avoid the rush well, but in the two meetings between these teams this year, Terrell Suggs and company were constantly in Pittsburgh's backfield.

Mike Wallace is key in the wide receiver screen game. He can take any screen to the house by his ability to make people miss in space. He's one of the top five fastest players in the NFL in my opinion. 

 

Ravens' Three X-Factors

  1. Joe Flacco   
  2. Anquan Boldin 
  3. Ed Reed

Steeler's Three X-Factors

  1. Troy Polamalu
  2. Mike Wallace
  3. Ben Roethlisberger

PREDICTION: Ravens 20, Steelers 19

You know it's going to be close, and it's almost unfair to make a pick, but I like Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco's cool demeanor in the clutch.

Roethlisberger isn't shabby himself. 

Will either Polamalu or Reed make game-changing plays that they're accustomed to doing?

Just to throw it out there, this will be the game where Joe Flacco becomes a star. This will be a franchise defining win if the Ravens can pull this one out.

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