Ravens (8-6) @ Steelers (7-7)
The Ravens once again clash heads with the Pittsburgh Steelers this week. For the fifth consecutive meeting between these two teams, 1 game or less separates them in the standings. Fortunately, though, the Ravens have a slightly higher margin for error right now than Pittsburgh does. A Ravens loss would not preclude them from backing into the playoffs with a win in Oakland next week, though they would likely need at least some help. A Steeler loss, and the “Stairway to Seven” BS stops until 2010.
Realistically, the Steelers are living on borrowed time as it is. Any hopes they had for the postseason SHOULD have ended last week at the hands of the Green Bay Packers. Of course, some boneheaded “prevent” defense from Green Bay in the final minute, along with a ridiculous illegal contact flag that negated what should have been a game ending interception, sprinkled in with some patented Pittsburgh dumb luck all made for a last-second win for Baby Ben and his minions of infighting teammates.
If the Ravens can manage a season sweep, they can be the ones to deal the knock-out punch to the Steelers’ season. Like most Ravens fans though, I hardly get the “warm and fuzzies” any time the Ravens play in the Steel City, even in a season where the enemy has lost to such powerhouses as Oakland, Kansas City, and Cleveland. They’re still a respectable 5-2 at ketchup-mush field, and the Ravens have only won there once this decade (a glorious 34-7 schellacking in 2006).
The Ravens have had two weeks to basically warm-up for this game, with Detroit and Chicago putting up very little resistance. On the bright side, the offense appears to be firing on all cylinders, and the defense forcing turnovers like it was 2008 all over again. However, let’s hope they haven’t forgotten that not all teams are so eager to roll over and die, and that they aren’t shocked and confused when the guys that can only afford logos for one side of their helmets hit back a little bit.
Joe Flacco has followed up the worst game of his career, the Monday Nighter at Lambeau, with two of his best. Since throwing 3 interceptions that night, he has 5 touchdowns and no picks in his last 55 attempts. The Pittsburgh secondary is playing their worst football in years, and will again be without Troy Polamalu to make everything better. The way to attack them is to spread them out, but with the Ravens a bit knicked up at WR, that may be a tenuous prospect. Mark Clayton and Kelley Washington are both expected to play, but it remains to be seen how effective they will be after missing some time. The emergence of Demetrius Williams lately has Ravens fans cautiously optimistic – if “Completrius” can show some consistency by having a big game in the land of 1000 bridges, it will go a long way towards a Ravens victory.
Also promising was Todd Heap reappearing in the offense to score twice against the Bears. Joe Cool will need as many weapons as possible running wild in the Pittsburgh defensive backfield Sunday, as that is where the Steelers are most vulnerable. Up front, the line will have to play like they did in the first half of the first Pittsburgh game, and give those guys time to find the holes. If Lamarr Woodley and James Harrison can get cranked up like they were able to in the 2nd half in B’More, it could be a long day for Joe and Ravens fans alike.
Defensively, the Ravens could be in more than a little trouble. The loss of Lardarius Webb has the potential to be HUGE, not just this week, but for the Ravens’ season in general. Dominique Foxworth may have been the AFC Defensive Player of the Week last week, but now he goes up against Baby Ben, who was his counterpart on the Offensive side of the ball in Week 15. Ben threw for over 500 yards against Green Bay, and he is no doubt salivating at the idea of seeing Foxworth, Chris Carr, and Frank Walker out there chasing his guys around. If there is one glimmer of hope, it is that Ed Reed practiced on Friday, and could finally get back into a game this week. Keep your fingers crossed.
The loss of Webb hurts doubly, as the Ravens are now less equipped to take advantage of Pittsburgh’s other glaring weakness, their return coverage. The Ravens have yet to announce who will handle kickoffs, but rest assured, whoever it is, does not worry the Steelers like Webb would have.
The offenses look poised to dominate a Pittsburgh-Baltimore matchup – what kind of crazy, backwards world is this that we are living in?
Just keep reminding yourselves, Ravens fans, a loss does NOT doom the Ravens this week.
We may have to make it our mantra.
Steelers 31 Ravens 24
(sprinkles some of Santa’s magic dust on the score prediction)
Ravens 27 Steelers 26