The hard work the Ravens put into beating the Pittsburgh Steelers twice this season (week 1 and week 9) paved the way for Baltimore fans to be thinking about home playoff games – even the number one seed in the AFC. Unexpected losses at Tennessee, Jacksonville and Seattle have landed the team in a staring contest with Pittsburgh, whose only other loss was in Houston back in week 4.
Since losing in Seattle, the Ravens have won four straight. Since losing to Baltimore, the Steelers have won four straight.
If there is a week where one of these two will blink, you would think it would be this one. The Ravens are travelling out to San Diego to take on the Chargers who have rekindled faint playoff hopes at 6-7. They trail Denver by 2 games and were just “Tebowed” three weeks ago. But a win against the Ravens would extend hope at least one more week. And that could be an underrated factor in the game Sunday night…a desperate team, needing to do desperate things to stay alive. But my hope is the Chargers played loose and stress-free in their pastings of the Jaguars and Bills the last two weeks.
With Baltimore in town, it certainly involves a step up in class. And the added weight of being involved in the division race again may induce the Chargers into performances more like the ones seen in consecutive losses to the Jets, Chiefs, Packers, Raiders, Bears and Broncos. Looking at San Diego’s wins, you’ll see a string of wannabes (Minnesota, KC, Miami, Denver, Buffalo and the Jags). This sounds a lot like a bubble team for the NCAA tournament trying to steal a marquee win to impress the selection committee. Will the Ravens blink?
For the Steelers part, they travel to the Bay Area to take on the 49ers Monday night. Once 9-1, the Niners have lost two of three. A big story here, and you can stop me if you’ve heard this one before, is the availability of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger to take snaps. On the other side of the ball, they should be without starting LB James Harrison (suspension). If both are out, obviously, San Francisco will have an advantage. But they too may be without All-Pro Middle Linebacker Patrick Willis (hamstring). Pittsburgh will have had 10 full days of rest before taking the field in front of what I’m sure will be thousands of yellow towel waving fans. Will the Steelers show rust and blink themselves?
It should be an entertaining two nights of primetime football for Ravens fans. If things go perfect and the Ravens are 11-3 with the Steelers 10-4, a home playoff game would be almost assured with woeful Cleveland coming to town next week. And the top seed would be played for in Cincinnati in week 17. If it goes horribly wrong, and the results are reversed, you can consider that playoff invoice a down payment on next year’s tickets. Pittsburgh has St. Louis and Cleveland left. If the teams mirror each other’s result, this staring contest figures to go right down to the first day of 2012.