The Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Baltimore Ravens has become one of the most intense rivalries, not just in the National Football League, but in all of sports. The last time these two teams faced each other in the playoffs was in the 2008 NFC Championship game. The Steelers won at home 23-14.
The Ravens are not at a disadvantage playing yet another road playoff game. Since Joe Flacco has been the Ravens quarterback, they have won four post season road games. This season each team has won on the road against each other.
In week four, the Ravens defeated the Steelers 17-14, but Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was still under suspension and therefore, did not play. When Big Ben has played, the Steelers have won the last six games vs. the Ravens.
One of the biggest keys to victory today will be which team has the best quarterback. Both teams are stingy against the run with the Steelers only giving up an NFL best 62.8 yards rushing per game.
The Steelers will try to spread the Ravens secondary out with speedy receiver Mike Wallace and the veteran Hines Ward. Heath Miller has had nine receptions the past two games.
For Baltimore they will need a huge game from Anquan Boldin, no easy task going against a Steelers defense with Troy Polamalu. Flacco has been able to find Boldin open in the red zone regularly, which is important. When these two teams play, touchdowns are far more valuable than field goals.
The running game for both probably will not be a factor, but look for them to try and establish some sort of rush offense. Rashard Mendenhall has had a great season, but tends to struggle against good defenses. I expect the Ravens and Ray Lewis to be fired up, as they always are, and suffocate the Pittsburgh running game. Ray Rice should be more used out of the backfield to help with the passing game. Willis McGahee should get a lot of work today, especially if Rice can't get the job done.
Aside from who will pass or run better the key factor will be who is more physical. The Ravens defense dominated the Kansas City Chiefs last week and I expect them to be even more pumped up and hard hitting than usual. If Polamalu can stay healthy the entire game, the Steelers will have the better defense. But it will come down to which defense wants it more.
Polamalu is currently listed as probable with an injured right Achilles' tendon. Also, the status of Ray Rice is unknown, as there have been reports of him being sick.
The cold weather will not be an issue for these cold weather teams, but the wind should have an affect. Most of the Steelers vs. Ravens games are usually decided by a field goal, and with 15 MPH winds expected, field goals may be more difficult than usual.
My pick for this game is the Ravens by a score of 20-17. The Ravens have a lot of momentum, but this game can definitely go either way.