Eye on the Enemy: Divisional Round

With two AFC North teams still in the playoffs (and playing each other this weekend) I still have more to write about our divisional rivals for at least two more weeks.  Obviously one will be eliminated this weekend, but the other can't be until the next weekend (if even then).  So if you like these columns, you get at least two more... if you don't, sorry, but it will all be over soon enough, one way or the other.

Last weekend the Steelers were on a BYE and the Ravens used the Chiefs as an outright chew-toy.  I wasn't super confident in my pick but I knew the Ravens were the better team and should win, and they did so far more easily than I expected.  Still, we have to give at least some credit to KC, they kept things fairly close (even briefly leading) for the whole first half.  But not close enough.  So I now have a perfect record at 1-0.  Of course, that probably won't last very long...

By virtue of the Jets upsetting the Colts (thanks in part to Milquetoast Caldwell's insane decision to give them essentially an extra timeout), the Ravens must now travel to the Steelers this weekend for the final decision on which of these two teams is better this year.

AFC North Game of the Week

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers

This game in many ways might well be the game of the weekend as well.  Pity that it got the crappiest possible timeslot.  Less people will watch it because of that.

One thing we can be sure of when these two teams meet, it's going to be a hard-hitting, smack-talking, physical knock-down-and-drag-out affair.  Even if one team is getting blown out, they're still going to be hitting the opponent with everything they've got and screaming trash talk after the play is over.  But does anybody really expect a blowout?  I don't.  The Steelers did pretty much beat the Ravens like a drum in the rookie year of Joe Flacco, but other than that, they've usually been pretty close games decided by around 3 points or less.

The Ravens are three point dogs, which is basically Vegas' way of saying "we don't have a clue".  Frankly, neither do I.  On one hand, Flacco has never beaten the Steelers when Tiny Ben was playing.  On the other hand, this year has been wacky as hell all year long, so maybe it's time for him to get that monkey off his back.  Or maybe not.

The X factor is, of course, Troy Polamalu.  He played in both of the previous games, but he wasn't able to do enough to get the win during the first game, and he was in the second game this year.  But of late he's been hobbled by an Achilles injury and we have no idea just how effective he will be, or even for sure that he'll even play.  (Yeah, yeah, we know he'll do anything necessary to try to play, but it's still not guaranteed that he will.)

Add it all up and I think that the Ravens really do have a shot here.  Part of that is because I want them to, of course, but they still do have at least some chance of winning.  But given that the game is in Pittsburgh and the fact that the Steelers are as fully rested as possible when the Ravens are not, I have to go against what I want to happen and pick what I think is a bit more likely to happen.  As with just about any time I pick the Steelers to win, I'll be delighted to be wrong, but I still have to pick them anyway.  Steelers 27, Ravens 21.

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