Baltimore Ravens (12-4, 5-3 away) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4, 5-3 home) @ Heinz Field on CBS, 4:30 PM ET
Line: PIT by 3
Reason to Watch: The interesting thing about this game is how these two teams are so similar. The biggest difference is at quarterback. On Pittsburgh’s side, you have two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger, despite missing the first four games of the season, threw for 3200 yards, 17 TDs and 5 ints, including one game where we had his nose mangled by Ravens Haloti Ngata (more on him later). Big Ben is the consummate playmaker.
While Peyton and Brees may be more accomplished passers, but when the play breaks down around them few players have the ability to shake off tacklers, make a play with his feet or get drilled while delivering a perfect pass like Big Ben.
Plus, Roethlisberger has the same amount of rings as Brees, Manning, and Marino combined. This is the biggest reason why the Steelers have kept Ben around despite all his off-field behavior. Like they say in Basketball, you can’t teach height, well in Football, you can’t teaching winning.
On the other side of the ball, you have “Steady” Joe Flacco. Just looking at him, he looks like nothing special. Just a real lanky dude, who can spin the football real hard. While Flacco may not do anything to knock your socks off, that’s just not his job on this team. Flacco’s job is get the ball to the ageless and sure-handed Derrick Mason, or the best receiver (other then maybe Wes Welker) to turn five yards into 10 or 15 yards in Anquan Bolden, and the heart and soul of the offense in Ray Rice.
Rice is having another fantastic season with 307 carries, for 1220 rushing yards and five tds, to go along with 63 receptions for 556 yards and one more TD. All in all, Rice had 1776 yards of offense, but was held to 20 yards and 32 yards rushing against the Steelers in 2010.
Then we get to the superheros playing safety for both squads. Ed Reed for the Ravens and Troy Polamalu for the Steelers. Both players are very different, but their effect the game is otherworldly. While Reed is the ballhawking safety that strikes fear into the quarterback every time he drops back. While Polamalu, is a heatseeking missile of a safety. Troy probably has one of the highest football IQ’s of all time. The play where he comes up to the line of scrimmage, times the snap out perfectly, and leaps over the centre/guard and sacks the QB is the best play in Football.
Now for the X-factor in tomorrow’s game, Raven’s DT Haloti Ngata. Ngata, is an uncontrollable beast on the field. The Steelers o-line hasn’t been great all season, and in the two games against Ngata, Pittsburgh has allowed him to have 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Those numbers are something to shake your head at when you about his role as a DT in a 3-4 defense (typically he’s just there to attract a double team to open up lanes for the linebackers). Rookie centre Maurkice Pouncey will draw the assignment of shutting down Ngata in his first playoff game (“good luck with all that”).
Ravens 13, Steelers 9
Green Bay Packers (10-6, 3-5 away) vs. Atlanta Falcons (13-3, 7-1 home) @ Georgia Dome on FOX, 8:00 PM ET
Line: ATL by 2.5
Reason to Watch: While Saturday’s first game will be like an ancient Roman bloodbath, the Packers and Falcons will be like a dogfight of the 21st century (not the Mike Vick type dogfight). The Packers seem to have the feel of the 2007 New York Giants. The Pack started the season as a preseason Super Bowl contender, only to have multiple players lost to injury for a significant period of time. The biggest lose at running back, Ryan Grant, who was coming off back to back 1200 yard seasons. Coach Mike McCarthy kept his team together threw thick and thin, and this team seems to be stronger then ever heading in to Atlanta.
This game features two great QB/WR combos. Matt Ryan to Roddy White lead the league in receptions, while Rodgers to Greg Jennings just completed their third straight season of 1100 yards plus. Roddy White will have the tougher task this weekend when he lines up against one of the best cornerback’s of all time in Charles Woodson. While Jennings has a more favorable matchup against the smaller Dunta Robinson.
Atlanta’s offense is going to be in ball control mode from the second they touch the football. Handing the ball off to Michael Turner, while finding TE Tony Gonzalez on the short comeback and crossing routes are integral to keeping the Packers offense off the field. The more pressure they can put on Green Bay, while giving them the least amount of time to work, is the way Atlanta is going to win.
This games one on one matchup involves two college teammates in ATL’s LT Sam Baker and GB’s LB Clay Matthews III. Matthews is going to try and kill Matt Ryan tomorrow so it’s up to the guy who watched him develop for 3 years at USC. Baker, who’s about as solid a left tackle in the game today might struggle with the athleticism of Matthews. On the other side of the ball rookie Bryan Bulaga, might be taking on DE John Abraham. While Bulaga’s had a solid rookie year, facing an All-Pro like Abraham can be an eye opening experience.
Don’t forget Matt Ryan is 20-2 in the Georgia Dome.
Packers 35, Falcons 28