AFC Championship Preview: Steelers vs. Ravens

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The Baltimore Ravens descend upon Heinz Field once again this Sunday for the AFC Championship game. To say our rivalry just got kicked up a notch is like saying there have been a couple arrests made in Baltimore.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a number of rivals throughout the league. The Cowboys, the Titans, the Fighting Belicheats, and of course the Cleveland Browns. However, with the exception of the Brownies, we don’t play any of those teams twice a year every year. And Cleveland, well, geography may make us rivals but on the field the Browns haven’t been a threat to us in twenty five years. Which makes the fact the Ravens are easily Public Enemy #1 to members of Steeler Nation all the more ironic considering Baltimore would be Cleveland if not for a greedy little jagoff of an owner. Then again, who can blame someone for wanting out of Cleveland?

The True Rivalry as I like to call it basically was born in 1999 when Brian Billick became head coach of the Ratbirds. He, along with a couple guys named Lewis (Ray and Jamal), brought about an era of winning which culminated with a Super Bowl victory the next year. The following season, the Steelers dethroned the champs by eliminating them in the Divisional Playoff Round behind the brilliant play of a resurgent Kordell Stewart. Since then, bounties and on-field incidents have marred the games between these two teams as mutual respect has quickly turned to a healthy hatred. The Ravens returned the favor on the Steelers back in 2006 when they crushed us twice, ending any hope of defending our most recent championship.

You can read my analysis of our first two bloodbaths here and here. Not much has changed other than the continued development of QB Joe Flacco. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh seems to still have his young QB on a tight leash although to his credit Flacco has shown steady leadership you rarely see in a rookie. How much he can do, or is allowed to do, will be the story of the game. Also key will be the turnover battle. Baltimore was, frankly, outplayed by Tennessee last week. If the Titans didn’t make so many mistakes, they had the game in hand. QB Kerry Collins threw a stupid pick deep in Raven territory while RB Lendale White fumbled away another red zone opportunity. See what happens to people who stomp on the Terrible Towel, Tubby?

Another big thing will be what happens on the injury front. The Titans’ RB Chris Johnson was ripping off big gains early on. When he went down, the momentum dramatically shifted. In the first Pittsburgh-Baltimore battle, players were going down left and right. Since things can be altered dramatically with one play, let’s hope the Steelers can stay on the field. As it stands now, S Troy Polamalu and C Justin Hartwig are the only players dinged up. Hartwig seems good to go. Everybody seems to think Polamalu will be fine come game time but he clearly didn’t look like himself last week so let’s hope a week of rehab was enough and nothing happens to exacerbate the injury further. On the Ravens side, CB Samari Rolle and LB Terrell Suggs, two of their better defensive players, are hurting. Rolle is apparently a definite out but Suggs seems to want to give it a try although playing with a badly separated shoulder would likely limit him to being a 3rd down pass rusher.

Of course, Tennessee didn’t have their two best defensive players when they creamed us a few weeks back so even if neither one plays, don’t assume that means our offense is going to samari roll all over them.

Mike Tomlin makes his first appearance in an AFC Championship game. Previous coach and this site’s inspirational founder Bill Cowher was 2 for 6 in Championship games over his 15 year tenure. Interestingly, one of those wins came against the Indianapolis Colts lead by QB Jim Harbaugh, the brother of our opponent’s coach. Now it’s time to see if Tomlin’s regular season hocus pocus can turn the Cinderella Ravens back into pumpkins and send the Steelers to the fancy Ball in Tampa.

Tags: Afc Championship Afc Championship Game Baltimore Ravens Belicheats Belichick Cleveland Browns Cowboys Cowher Dallas Cowboys Fast Willie Parker Great Sports Rivalries Harbaugh James Harrison Jim Harbaugh John Harbaugh Kordell Stewart Mike Tomlin New England Patriots Nfl Playoffs Ratbirds Roethlisberger Super Bowl Tennessee The Rivalry Titans Troy Polamalu Willie Parker

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