RT's AFC Championship Preview

As I embark on my last AFC playoff preview, I would like to give you a few thoughts before I pad my 4-0 record.

* How come nobody is talking about how Jake Delhomme single-handedly OJ’d the Panther’s season!? He just turned in the worst single performance in playoff history and somehow he gets a free pass. I don’t get it.

* We are about to enter a new era of great quarterbacks. Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Matt Stafford, Sam Bradford and Brady Quinn have the collective potential to bring back respectability to the quarterback position.

* I want to thank the Steelers defense for mailing in the last 5 minutes of last week’s game to ruin my prediction of a blowout. Thanks guys.

Baltimore Ravens v. Pittsburgh Steelers (-6)

#6 Baltimore Ravens

OFFENSE: The Ravens looked terrible on offense last week. The coaches looked scared out of their mind every time Joe Flacco dropped back to pass. The fear was completely unjustified as Flacco did what he has done all season which is manage the game and make a few big plays. I would say he played with significantly more confidence than Kerry Collins. Beyond Flacco, the running game was pathetic. The offensive line was dominated and the numbers proved it. McGahee had only 32 yards rushing and McClain had an abysmal 12 yards on 12 carries. No running lanes = No victory for the Ravens this week.

DEFENSE: There is only one thing that needs to be said about the defensive effort from the Ravens last week. If Ed Reed doesn’t pull a “one-game suspension” worthy dirty play on Chris Johnson in the first-half, the Titans win the game by 10 points and the Steelers are playing on the road this week.

#2 Pittsburgh Steelers

OFFENSE: The Steelers offense starts and stops with the run game. Willie Parker ran all over the Chargers (as predicted here) and the Steelers won the game going away. The run game will again be the key this week as Ben Roethlisberger cannot be trusted to win the game against a defense like the Ravens. He gave us a B game last week and he will need his “A” game if Parkers is stuck at the line of scrimmage all game. Of course, the unsung hero of the Steeler’s win over the Chargers was the offensive line which gave Big Ben all the time he needed and gave Parker the running lanes he needed.

DEFENSE: How is it possible that the best defense in the league can be underrated!? If you asked most fans which team has the better defense – the Ravens or the Steelers – I have to believe 2 out of 3 say the Ravens. Ridiculous. The Steelers gave up a bunch of passing yard to Rivers last week, but that was after the game was well in hand. Don’t expect the defense to let up this week.

Ravens v. Steelers Matchup

Ravens on offense: I fear for the Ravens this week. They will do their best to establish the run early but I think they will run into the same problem they had last week. Too much running the ball at the beginning which will force them to rely on Flacco to make big plays. To have a chance to win, the Ravens offense will need to score points by establishing a balanced offensive attack. If they continuously run the ball on 2nd and 7 in the first half, this game could be over very very early.

Steelers on offense: As I said above, getting Willie Parker his yards early in the game is critical for the Steelers. Big Ben is a very good quarterback but he cannot take over a game like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. Even though I do expect the Steelers to control the line of scrimmage, I don’t think the Steelers can win without a steady diet of Parker. Nobody is talking about how “Super” Ed Reed won the game last week by putting Chris Johnson on the sidelines for the second half. Unless Reed can duplicate his dirty play, Parker will get his yards early and the Steelers will move the ball consistently down the field.

Prediction: It’s the Steelers again. The team that can run the ball wins this game and that team is the Steelers. While it would be easy to say the rookie Flacco folds under the pressure in a hostile environment, I think he continues to deliver a performance that keeps his team in the game. In the end, the Steelers are too good on the defensive side of the ball and they are a tough team to beat at Heinz Field unless some guy named Brady is the quarterback of the other team. Steelers by a touchdown.

Baltimore: 10 – Pittsburgh: 17