Steelers-Ravens: NFL Game of The Week

Leo HayesCorrespondent IDecember 11, 2008

It's crunch time in the NFL and this week the Steelers face the Ravens with the chance to lock-up the AFC North. 

This is a head-to-head matchup of two of the best defenses in the NFL, as well as one of the most bitter, bloody rivalries. These teams hate each other and neither wants the other to one-up them. This has been demonstrated over the years with the two teams usually splitting the annual series.

Both teams have tough schedules in the remaining parts of the year, with the Steelers going to Tennessee after this game then heading to Cleveland to wrap-up the season and the Ravens playing in Dallas and finishing with Jacksonville.

Both Pittsburgh and Baltimore will treat this game as the most important of the season and will come out swinging.

In the last matchup Pittsburgh won on a Jeff Reed field goal in overtime. Baltimore had the better offense to begin the game, but it was the defense that allowed the Steelers to get back into the game, and eventually win, forcing a turnover, which resulted in a touchdown, shortly after the offense generated points.

Expect to see more of the same in this game as the team that gets their offense going first will have the fast-track to a win, while the other will have to rely on their defense to get them back in the game. 

The defenses will show up and will wreak havoc on the opposing team's offense. With that said, I will now move to the respective offenses.

Baltimore has the slight edge in offensive statistics, ranking 19th overall with 320 yards per game, while Pittsburgh is ranked 26th with nearly 303 yards per game. However, these stats don't amount to much as neither team will get close to their season averages this Sunday.

The Ravens offense is lead by Joe Flacco, a rookie quarterback who is having a very good year. Rookie quarterbacks, however, struggle greatly against the confusing blitz brought by Dick LeBeau and the Steelers.

Flacco did perform well in the first matchup, but the pressure eventually got to him and he made a few crucial turnovers that lead his team to a loss.

Flacco will probably have more pressure than he would like and James Harrison will probably continue his trend of forcing fumbles. The key to win for the Ravens is to have Flacco stay protected in the pocket and make good decisions.

The Steelers offensive line will again be tested and Ben Roethlisberger will get hit, several times, but if he can handle the pressure his team will have a good chance to win.

The key for the Steelers is getting open quickly on passing plays and giving Roethlisberger enough time to get the ball off. Alternate options such as short passes over the middle to Heath Miller and screens to the running backs will help in this department.

Neither team will have an impressive running game as both defenses excel in this area and neither has all that impressive of a running attack this year. Both teams must protect the quarterback and create openings in the passing game, quickly, if they want to win.

As a side note, Baltimore has won five straight at home against Pittsburgh and was the last team to sweep the series in 2006. Pittsburgh leads the overall series 15-10.

I was lucky enough to get tickets to the Monday-night game this year and all I can say is this will be a great hard-hitting football game. I predict the Steelers to come out on top 14-13.