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Sunday Morning Bloody Mary: Ravens Host Steelers

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Way back when the 2010 NFL regular season schedule came out months ago, coaches, players and fans of the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers looked at this game as pivotal without even knowing the two teams would be tied atop the AFC North with identical 8-3 records. Especially after knowing that the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger would miss the game under suspension for his "conduct detrimental to the league." Steelers fans think this will be a much different game and even Ravens fans agree. Baltimore's Ed Reed also missed that game and might have a play or two in him to affect the outcome of this one as much as Big Ben might do.

Roethlisberger appears to be hampered by a foot injury but most people realize that he will be there under center, running around, scrambling for his life, getting out of jams and frustrating the defense and their screaming fans. Here's hoping that the foot is bothering him enough not to be able to push off enough to get all his zip behind them or just enough to not permit him to twist out of the grasp of a Ravens tackler.

Tonight's game on national TV will be viewed by most every football fan in America and probably around the world. Players and coaches of other teams will tune in as well to see what has become the most fierce rivalry in the NFL nowadays. The physicality of this game will be scrutinized by the officials on the field as well as in league offices as it is usually the hardest hitting contest of the NFL season.

So who wins this game and why?

(Don't forget to join us for an 'Open Thread' at 8pm tonight)

The Baltimore Ravens have already beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers, 17-14, at Heinz Field, albeit without both Ben Roethlisberger and Ed Reed. Now both are back and despite the injury concerns, there will be no excuses. The Ravens actually have the advantage as they are not only the home team, their week four win has them facing either a season sweep or split of the series. If they lose the game, they will still have a shot by virtue of their similar record if they finish in a tie at the end of the regular season. However, if the Ravens win today, they will actually be two games ahead of the Steelers as they would have beaten Pittsburgh twice during the season and a tie would give them the AFC North title.

Tonight, the keys to the game will be the Ravens offense's ability to protect QB Joe Flacco from the vicious Steelers pass rush, while at the same time, putting pressure on QB Ben Roethlisberger when he drops back to pass. Simply put, if this happens, the Ravens will win the game and if it does not, the Steelers will win. That puts the game in the hands of the guys who put their hands in the dirt of the trenches.

Both teams boast solid run games, good receivers, great safeties and ferocious linebackers. Like them or not, the Steelers and Ravens are basically mirror images of each other, put together by General Managers to specifically compete with each other year in and year out. As much as each team's fans might have disdain for each other, it is because of the other team's success that makes this rivalry so current and pertinent at least twice each season and sometimes even three times a year.

I like the Ravens chances at home, as Flacco has played great at home and the Ravens are undefeated here in 2010. The Steelers have played well enough to win as of late, but just barely. While Ben's foot should not be an excuse, it could hamper him enough to take away his biggest asset, his ability to stay afoot until one of his receivers get open for big plays late in the game. That said, if the game is tied or close with a minute to go and the Steelers have the ball, I would be real nervous as a Ravens fan. Therefore, the offense needs to step it up in the second half and specifically the late fourth quarter and put this game out of reach and have the defense come up with game-sealing turnovers to give the Ravens the well-deserved victory.

Once again, a close, hard-hitting game that will surely put additional cash into the league's bank accounts through personal foul penalties and illegal" hits. For the first time since 2006, the Ravens sweep the regular season series and beat the Steelers at home in front of the entire league and nation.

Ravens: 24-16