Here we go again, Steelers fans. The Baltimore Ravens are one loss away from losing the AFC North division as they were two weeks ago. Although the Ravens were crushed by the San Diego Chargers on Sunday Night Football in week 15, the Pittsburgh Steelers played well below winning standards the following night and handed the division lead right back to Baltimore. Now, with one week remaining, the entire fate of the AFC title game could come down to two games, both played in Ohio.
In Cleveland, the Steelers will play a struggling Browns team who almost beat the them two weeks ago at Heinz Field. While Ben is injured and the Browns gave Pittsburgh a tough fight in Week 15, the Steelers know exactly what is at stake and they already have the familiarity of playing against the Browns earlier in the season. Still, if Charlie Batch needs to start, the Steelers will need to rely on the run game. At the same time, that may not be a bad thing. In the past five games, the Steelers are averaging 128.8 ypg on the ground which has helped the offense regardless of who was playing quarterback.
On the other side of the ball, the Cleveland Browns are ranked 2nd against the pass (behind the Steelers) and 30th against the run. While the Steelers had difficulty running the ball, at times, against the Browns, the gameplan will most likely center around getting Rashard Mendenhall and Issac Redman the ball as much as possible. At least it should. Batch is game a manager when he plays but how is Roethlisberger any different when he's immobile? Like Batch, Ben will have to stay in the pocket and complete quick throws 5-8 yards down field. Is there really a difference?
Meanwhile, 4 hours south of Cleveland, the Baltimore Ravens finish off their season against the Cincinnati Bengals in what was originally seen as a cakewalk at season's start. Instead, the Bengals have a chance to make the playoffs for the second time in three years if they win. The Ravens are playing for a first round bye.
In their first match up six weeks ago, the Ravens stopped a late rally from Andy Dalton to win 31-24 in Baltimore. The Bengals did not have AJ Green due to injury from the week before and now, it appears the tables have turned. Anquan Boldin will not play Sunday due to a surgical procedure done on his knee to remove cartilage. With the Ravens' best wide receiver out, Joe Flacco will have to rely on rookie Torrey Smith and Lee Evans, two receivers who only excel at go-routes. Also, the Ravens are 3-4 on the road including losses to Seattle, Jacksonville and San Diego. With the Bengals one win away from reaching the playoffs, expect as close to a hostile environment as you can get.
The Steelers can only take care of their game and, with a veteran team, they already know that. Despite losing in San Fransisco when they had a first round bye handed to them, and despite losing twice to the Baltimore Ravens earlier in the season, the Steelers still have an opportunity to win the division. While this may not be one of the better teams to ever make the playoffs in Steelers history, they are still in a position to make the playoffs and potentially host one or two games. Plus, with an extra week off, the Steelers could get a completely healthy Lamarr Woodley as well as Maurkice Pouncey and Ben Roethlisberger.
Here we go again.