For the third time this season the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens will clash, only this time it’s win or go home in the wild card round of the NFL playoffs that might end up being another brutal and bloody episode in the history of these division rivals.
Splitting the season series, both the Steelers and the Ravens come back to the postseason after a short absence (a bit longer for Pittsburgh). Ben Roethlisberger had a huge season, throwing for 4952 yards and 32 touchdowns, having a great time finding Antonio Brown (1698 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Le’Veon Bell, who won’t be playing. That means trying to make up for the absence of someone who ran for 1361 yards and caught 83 passes for 854 yards, second on the team in receiving.
The Baltimore Ravens haven’t been as explosive as the Steelers this season on most weeks, but Joe Flacco has enough weapons of his own. Justin Forsett has run for 1266 yards and made everyone forget about Ray Rice, who was doing poorly even before beating up his wife. Steve Smith showed Carolina (all season and in the game between them) that he has a lot more to give with 1065 yards and six touchdowns, getting plenty of help from Torrey Smith, catching 49 passes for 767 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Ravens have the better defense that has done very well when it comes to attacking the quarterback an with quite a few names on the all-pro teams including Elvis Dumervil and C.J. Mosley. In front of that excellent defense, ranked 4th this season against the run, will be Ben Tate (3.12 yards per rush this season), Josh Harris (with only 9 rushing attempts this season) and Dri Archer who is really fast (fastest player in the 2014 combine) but has only 10 carries in 2014.
So what decides this game? Both teams are similar when it comes to turnovers. Roethlisberger is a bit more dependable than Flacco in the passing game this season, but has no rushing game anymore. Probably protecting the quarterback, something the Steelers do well on occasion and the Ravens might be the best in the NFL in. If their combination of pass rush and protection clicks in this game, it’s going to be hard prying the win away from them.
An interesting change occurred this season in the clash between these two bitter rivals that often seem to mirror each other in their style, reliance on defense although their offenses certainly work in different ways and efficiency. After five consecutive games that ended with a margin of three points or less from 2011 through 2013, this season it’s been quite easy dealing with each other: The Ravens won by 20 points in September, the Steelers won by 20 at home back in early November.
What does this mean for this game? The Ravens haven’t won in a blowout in Pittsburgh since December 2006, and it’s no likely to happen this time either. Le’Veon Bell not playing is going to be a blow for the Steelers because of what he means in more than just the running game and the guys who are going to replace him. And yet Ben Roethlisberger has more playmakers he can rely on. It might not necessarily be enough, unless Joe Flacco is in a turnover kind of mood, throwing three in the loss to the Texans on December 21.