Playoff season. It's an event like none other. The stakes are higher, the victories are sweeter, the losses are more devastating, and there are fans across the nation refusing to change their socks until their team is knocked out of the playoffs. I can only assume this is the best news Rex Ryan has heard all week.
For the third time this season and the eighth in the past three years, the Steelers will take on the Ravens. These games are always close and always fun to watch. Here are the key factors that will decide the winner.
1. Baltimore's offensive philosophy: In last week's first half against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Ravens threw over ten times more than they passed. Throughout the game, the Ravens' passing attack consisted of underneath crossing routes to Anquan Boldin and Todd Heap. Flacco finished the day with 265 yards passing and two touchdowns, the best playoff game of his career. This type of offense is the Steelers defense's kryptonite as the New England Patriots showed. If Baltimore employs such a strategy again, Dick LeBeau will have to make the proper adjustments to counter it.
2. Terrell Suggs vs Jonathan Scott: With the comments and actions Suggs has had against Pittsburgh, you can be sure no fan sent him a Christmas card over the holiday. However, he backs up his game when it comes to playing the Black 'N Gold. He dominated the Steelers' offensive line Week 13, namely against left tackle Jonathan "Cross Your Fingers" Scott. To Scott's credit, he has played better the past few weeks. But he and the rest of the line haven't faced a pass rusher of Suggs' caliber since. When a team has a front four that can get pressure, it allows them to drop seven into coverage and clog up throwing lanes. Suggs cannot be allowed to create havoc again.
3. Billy Cundiff: A kicker sighting. Cundiff is the best kickoff specialist in the league, tying the record for touchbacks in a single season with 40. He has the ability to change the field position game and force offenses to go a long way for points. In a game that is expected to be close, the team that doesn't have to go as far against the other's top-flight defense has a huge advantage.
4. Redzone performance: Another aspect that is magnified when playing an evenly-matched team. The Steelers' offense have had their fair share of struggles once the ketchup bottles start pouring. On the other hand, the team's defense is the poster-child for "bend but don't break" and forces opposing offenses to earn every yard in the red area. The one time a team can break through could prove to be the difference.
Prediction: Pittsburgh wins. No homer here; I would (and have) pick against Pittsburgh if I didn't think they would win. With Ben Roethlisberger's emergence in reading defenses and getting the ball out of his hand quickly, he can carry this team offensively in the likelihood the running game struggles.
The score? It doesn't matter. When it's the playoffs, when it's Baltimore vs Pittsburgh, it's only about getting the "W."
© 2011 Steelers Universe