Wild card weekend was wild but not wild enough: the one clear favorite that actually won was the Baltimore Ravens. Now the Steelers have to face them for the third time this year, for the privilege of being beaten by New England in the championship game, one would expect. But weird things happen.
Anyway, the Steelers at home have the edge but there's really no clear favorite. Anything can happen. The Steelers may be more rested but if they aren't up to speed right at the beginning, a Ravens score early could be the difference in a tight game, as it was with the Jets. Everyone expects a defensive battle. Which means it could wind up being a 41-30 game. Both teams have potentially potent offenses that have occasionally lived up to their potential. That the Ravens had no problem with Kansas City is a confidence boost for them, on both sides of the ball. But the Steelers have put up a lot of points in their recent games.
As for the other Wild Card games, Indianapolis and New Orleans made quick exits on Saturday though both were favored--New Orleans by a lot over the Seattle Seahawks, who still don't have a winning record. By way of explanation, no truer words were ever spoke than these by Colts Qb Payton Manning: "We would have liked to score more points than them." That way they would have won the game, see?
Commentators talk about the Steelers-Ravens game as brutal, more than hinting that the game can hinge on injuries to key players. Both teams are going into the game about as healthy as they've been all year. The question will be how they come out of it. Will the winner still be healthy enough to compete in the next round?
During the week some Steelers players have talked about how their games with the Ravens always come down to the fourth quarter. This is true, but it also may reveal a mindset. The Ravens played on Sunday, the Steelers are rested and are playing at home. They might be thinking that if they can hold off the Ravens for 3 quarters, they can wear them out in the fourth. If the Ravens are worried about their stamina as well, it's more motivation for them to take chances on offense early and try to run up the score in the first half. The Steelers of course would like to score early and often, especially since they know how to defend a lead this year. But just preventing a Ravens score in the first quarter could be a big advantage for them.
Meanwhile, the Patriots know that once they take care of the Jets, they will be facing a tested but probably very beat up opponent--and if it's the Ravens, a pretty tired one as well. But what's interesting for the Steelers and Ravens is that their game is on Saturday, and the Patriots-Jets on Sunday. So when Pittsburgh and Baltimore play, facing the Jets in the championship game is still at least a possibility, more motivation to win, because the Jets are beatable. As long as Brady is standing, it's doubtful that the Patriots are this year. (Still, the Steelers came back against them after looking completely out of their league for the first half, so...but that's really getting ahead of the game.)
Big Ben has never been beaten by the Ravens, and his record in the playoffs is 8-2. You could argue that he's due. But how he plays may be the difference. Though the same may be said of Flacco, or the corners, or... Here's the thing. In many ways, some of them a little eerie, these teams are evenly matched. But that doesn't guarantee a close game. The odds are it will be a heart attack, but a blowout is also possible. It's like very existential, dude.
How about that other league? The winner of the Green Bay-Atlanta game will be in the Super Bowl. I saw some tentativeness in Atlanta against New Orleans, so in a pretty even contest I wouldn't be surprised if Green Bay won. Seattle-Chicago may be the most fun to watch because the game is meaningless. The winner ain't going nowhere past the next round.
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