#5 Baltimore Ravens (Wild Card) at #2 Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC North Champion)
Date, Time, Network: Saturday, January 15th at 4:30 PM on CBS
Summary: Baltimore’s romp of Kansas City has set up a third matchup between them and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The two teams split their previous two games, with the road team earning slim victories each time.
Offense: Against normal defenses, the Ravens and Steelers have serviceable, run-heavy offenses. Baltimore has multiple options on the run, with Ray Rice getting most carries, but Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain also getting snaps in certain situations. The Steelers run game consists mostly of Rashard Mendenhall though Isaac Redman is sometimes used as well.
Both teams can pass the ball adequately. Baltimore has a strong corps of wide receivers led by former Cardinal Anquan Boldin, and long time Raven Derrick Mason has also had a strong season. For Pittsburgh, Mike Wallace has become the main threat in Pittsburgh’s passing attack, though Hines Ward and tight end Heath Miller are both still very capable. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger still has some scrambling ability; something Baltimore QB Joe Flacco is not as adept at doing.
Scoring Offense: Baltimore 16th | Pittsburgh 12th
Total Offense: Baltimore 22nd | Pittsburgh 14th
Pass Offense: Baltimore 20th | Pittsburgh 14th
Rush Offense: Baltimore 14th | Pittsburgh 11th
Defense: Neither of these offenses are likely to do anything, however, as both the Ravens and Steelers possess some of the best defenses in the league. Pittsburgh’s run defense is one of the best in the league. With Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and James Farrior in Pittsburgh’s front seven, Baltimore will have a difficult time getting anywhere with their running game. Troy Polamalu is perhaps Pittsburgh’s biggest difference maker in the secondary, and Joe Flacco would be wise to avoid throwing his way even if it means abandoning Boldin or Mason as an option.
Baltimore’s defense is also full of playmakers. Veteran Ray Lewis leads the team in tackles and fumble recoveries. Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata are big threats in the trenches though both have been banged up. Similar to Pittsburgh, Baltimore’s biggest difference maker on defense is in the secondary. Ed Reed, who played admirably against Kansas City amidst reports of his brother’s death, will again be high on emotion going into this game.
Scoring Defense: Baltimore 3rd | Pittsburgh 1st
Total Defense: Baltimore 10th | Pittsburgh 2nd
Pass Defense: Baltimore 21st | Pittsburgh 12th
Rush Defense: Baltimore 5th | Pittsburgh 1st
Special Teams: In what may very easily become a defensive struggle, the kicking game will prove vital in every asset. From kickoffs to punts to field goals, the team that can execute in all three will likely win the game. For the Ravens, Billy Cundiff has been reliable in field goal kicking though he has not kicked one from 50+ yards all season. The same is true for Pittsburgh’s Shaun Suisham, who Pittsburgh acquired in midseason following struggles from long time kicker Jeff Reed.
Intangibles: Being division rivals, the two teams have met twice before, with the road team claiming victory each time. Neither team scored more than 17 points in either game. Heinz Field has never been known to be an offense-friendly field and has the added feature of having just hosted a Winter Classic game. Only defenders will think the field is in great condition.
Prediction: It is very possible that the first team to reach 10 points will win this game. Of course, both teams could surprise and we could also have a shootout on our hands, though that’s very unlikely. In the end I think the Ravens, who lost to Pittsburgh in the playoffs two years ago, will be able to edge the Steelers late, possibly in overtime.
Source for stats:
ESPN, Statistics Page, ESPN.com