Ray Lewis kneels over Ben Roethlisberger
After their week one 35-7 total beatdown, the Baltimore Ravens hope to swoop down on Heinz Field and fly away with a sweep of the Pittsburgh Steelers. A win today would not only give Baltimore the sweep of the season series, but put them in first place in the AFC North with a 6-2 record, while Pittsburgh will fall to 6-3. That would put the Ravens in the driver's seat in the division, as the Steelers would lose virtually all tie-breakers with us in the event the two teams finish tied at the end of the regular season.
While not discounting the turnaround season that the Cincinnati Bengals are having, as they also stand 5-2 going into today's game, but they still have to play both the Ravens and Steelers twice before they can plan on playing football deep into January. We'll get a better sense of how real the Bengals are after they host Pittsburgh next week and then come to Baltimore the week after that.
For now, the Ravens are underdogs on the road in Pittsburgh despite their overwhelming victory to open the 2011 season. A lot of so-called "experts" point at the recent offensive troubles that have plagued Baltimore the past two games as well as the success that Pittsburgh has enjoyed over the same span. The Ravens offense struggled against two 1-5 teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals, while the Steelers offense has clicked in wins over the Cardinals and New England Patriots.
However, regardless of either teams troubles or success, this match-up should throw anything from the past out of the window other than the war you know you will be seeing out on the field this evening. Not only do these two teams know each other, they are basically built the same exact way, with physical offenses and even more physical defenses that are usually ranked among the top in the NFL.
Therefore, you can discard what each team has been doing against the rest of the league and be sure that this will be a very even game tonight. While either team would love to be on the winning side of the score like we saw in week one, that game might be an aberration in this always close series. However, it is this writers opinion that if both teams play to the best of their respective abilities, the Baltimore Ravens should be able to win this game, sweep the season series and stake their claim as one of the top teams in the AFC and the NFL.
It will all come down to the Ravens offensive line. Regardless of how good any other position on either team plays, if the Ravens offensive line plays like it did in their first meeting, the Ravens win. If not, the Ravens lose. It's that simple.
The Steelers may be favored but the possible loss of two linebackers and a third recovering from a serious injury, should have a noticeable effect on their defense. Missing a fast WR and their starting punter could also figure into the outcome. The notion that the Steelers are hurting going into the game, much less the pounding they will receive once the game starts, could have disastrous effects on their ability to stay healthy all game long.
It seems obvious to all those experts that because Pittsburgh is playing well and Baltimore hasn't, the Steelers should win this game, right? Wrong, as this is the same NFL where the New Orleans Saints can go to the winless St. Louis Rams who are without their starting QB and still lose the game. This is the same NFL where the "Dream Team" of the Philadelphia Eagles can start the season 1-4 and the Detroit Lions can start it 5-0.
Rarely does the NFL goes as it seems to be on paper, and this game will be proof positive that each game should stand alone. The Ravens played their best game of the season in their week one win and the Steelers played their worst game of the season in their week one loss. Don't expect the same thing to happen but even if the to teams each play a little worse or better, respectively, the Ravens have the better defense and an offense that could awake like a sleeping giant.
In the NFL, they say defense travels well and you know Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Ed Reed will show up today. They should continue, regardless of the offensive woes, to shut down Ben Roethlisberger and pound him into the ground all evening. All the offense needs to do is show up and play better than they have the past two weeks and they will win this game. They do not need to put 35 points on the board nor play lights-out to leave Heinz Field with the victory. Just show up, put 20 points on the scoreboard and they will prove the doubters wrong - again.