NFL Wildcard Playoff Preview – Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens

One of the most passionate rivalries in the NFL gets restarted tonight when the PIttsburgh Steelers face their AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Wildcard Playoff matchup (8:00 p.m., NBC).

This rivalry has always been based on defensive intensity when players such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, James Farrior, Joey Porter & others a part of it. Now, both teams have had to rely on offensive outputs from Ben Roethlisberger from the Steelers & Joe Flacco from the Baltimore Ravens., but the fire is still there overall, no doubt about it.

Baltimore Ravens Offense vs Pittsburgh Steelers Defense

The Baltimore Ravens have always been an offensive unit that hasn’t always lived up to expectations of other NFL teams. They have been a running unit with a quarterback passing game that didn’t live up to the hype & would always throw to one or two receivers & the entire pressure would be on the defense.

Those days have changed now. Joe Flacco is having a big time year with just under 4,000 yards passing & 27 touchdowns, and he’s living up to the $100 million contract he signed in 2013 after the Ravens won the SuperBowl over the San Francisco 49ers.

When Ray Rice left earlier this season due to his domestic abuse situation, the team started to lean on Justin Forsett & Bernard Pierce to be the workhorses of the team. Forsett ran for 1,200 yards & Pierce for 366 yards & helped give the Ravens a true balance in the offensive unit, something the team has just started to grasp the concept of.

On the Pittsburgh Steelers side of things, the defense has gotten better with the re-addition of the recently retired James Harrison, who was one of the most dominant & feared linebackers in the history of the Steelers organization. Long-time safety Troy Polamalu is starting for the Steelers, giving them an extra boost of playmaking ability in the backfield. Having Troy being able to jump up & stop the run or watching Flacco’s eyes in pass coverage to assist guys like Lawrence Timmons & others can be a huge game changer for the Steelers sidelines.

Baltimore Ravens Defense vs Pittsburgh Steelers Offense

This matchup is going to be predicated strongly on the return of DT Haloti Ngata, who was serving a 4-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. Ngata will be key in plugging the hole for Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell to run through & to put more pressure on Roethlisberger to make perfect throws all day & have Antonio Brown get open consistently down the field.

Speaking of Brown, he is the Steelers one big deep threat, with TE Heath Miller being the main guy in the short to intermediate passing game. As of this writing, Bell has been announced out for the game, which now means that the entire offense is on Ben’s shoulders. If the Steelers have to throw on almost every down, the Baltimore pass rush will get major pressure on Ben after so long & the Steelers will be rendered one-dimensional, which absolutely can’t work against the Ravens.

Predictions: The Ravens are going to be looking to pull off the upset & without a consistent running game for the Steelers, the Ravens defense should feast on the Steelers. Final score – Ravens – 30, Steelers 17.