Playoff Preview: Saturday's Game 1

In what promises to be a hard-hitting and hotly contested game, Pittsburgh hosts rival Baltimore at 3:30 p.m. The last four meetings have all been decided by three points.

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

TV: CBS (Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf)

Keys to the game

The Ravens rededicated themselves to a more physical offensive approach since the last meeting, and haven't lost in the ensuing five games. But the Steelers have the league's No. 1-ranked run defense and limited Ravens RB Ray Rice to 20 and 32 rushing yards during the regular season - his two lowest outputs of the season. QB Joe Flacco will have to lead the offense in the face of the blitz. TE Todd Heap is coming off a 10-catch performance and will be a mismatch against Pittsburgh's linebackers and safeties.

Ben Roethlisberger will be prepared to take a beating - he suffered a broken nose in the last meeting and the Ravens will aggressively attack the Steelers' subpar pass blocking. Pittsburgh will attempt to establish RB Rashard Mendenhall early on, but knows it will likely have to move the ball through the air. The emergence of young WR Emmanuel Sanders has provided another valuable outlet and the speed of Mike Wallace will help stretch a Ravens defense susceptible to completions over the top.

Fast facts: The last four meetings have all been decided by three points. ... Flacco has tied an NFL record with four career road playoff wins as a starter. ... Heinz Field received its third new grass surface this season following the NHL's Winter Classic. ... Roethlisberger has won his last six starts against the Ravens.

Inside the Ravens

Terrell Suggs expressed his feelings about the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple of days before the divisional playoff game at Heinz field, and the Baltimore linebacker did it in a brash way.

Suggs wore a black T-shirt read, "Hey Pittsburgh" at the top with a giant purple Raven offering a one-fingered salute. But Suggs said he's not trying to fan the flames of a rivalry that is already considered one of the most intense in the NFL.

"No, there ain't no message," he said. "Like I said, I put on for my city. They rep their city, and I'm repping mine. So here we go."

This isn't the first time Suggs has used fashion to make a statement. In training camp before the 2009 season, he wore black t-shirt with the letters "YBYSA" on the front and the saying "You Bet Your Sweet (expletive) I hate the Steelers" on the back.

Suggs said he's not concerned about receiving a backlash from Pittsburgh fans over the shirt.

"Do I seem worried? This game is going to be what it is regardless," he said. "It's a physical dogfight, so I ain't expecting nothing different. And this is the shirt I wore this morning. This is just the shirt I chose."

A little later, on the topic of getting verbally pelted by Steelers fans, Suggs said, "I don't care. I don't play for them. I think they hate all of us just the same. If I get a little bit more, hey, that's good."

Still, after joking that he didn't love Pittsburgh, Suggs said he has a neutral view of the Ravens' fiercest rivals.

"I don't have any more animosity, any more beef with any one team in the NFL," he said. "It's just a rivalry game, a championship game, and let's go."

Suggs almost didn't make it to the makeshift podium inside the team's training facility in Owings Mills as inside linebacker Ray Lewis grabbed him in a bear-hug and tried to persuade him to change his shirt.

Suggs was followed by tight end Todd Heap, who played with the linebacker at Arizona State. Heap spotted the T-shirt, turned to the microphone and deadpanned, "That's my ASU buddy. Sometimes we claim him."

Meanwhile, Baltimore starting cornerback Chris Carr expressed optimism that he will be able to play in Saturday's AFC Divisional playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers despite a thigh injury.

But Carr did not practice Thursday and conceded that his status will be determined during pre-game warmups.

"If I don't feel good, then I won't go," he said. "But I feel like I will feel well enough on Saturday. Having today off and then tomorrow and the next day, and we don't play until 4:30. So that's good. So I feel like I'll feel good after that."

Carr, who had been limited in practice on Wednesday, declined to get into any specifics about the injury, including when it first occurred. But he said the injury hasn't prevented him from preparing off-the-field to play against the Steelers.

"It's one of those things where you think you're going to be fine and it doesn't seem too serious," Carr said. "I felt like I'm going to be able to play Saturday. But with certain injuries, you never know exactly how you're going to feel."

Inside the Steelers

After defense of their Super Bowl XLIII title fell flat on their face in 2009, the Steelers are ready to mount another drive to try to win their eighth Lombardi trophy when they open the playoff Saturday at home.

A year out of the playoffs has whetted their appetite for another.

"It's big. It's great to have a playoff game at home in front of Steeler Nation," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "To go against a great rival like the Ravens, that's the way you want it. You want it to be great football, you want it to be the best against the best and we feel good about our chances."

The past four games between the teams have been decided by three points. Of the past seven, all have been close with none more than four points except the AFC Championship Game in 2008 when the Steelers held a two-point lead with the Ravens driving late. Troy Polamalu ended that drive and the game with an interception he returned for a touchdown.

"One turnover, one sack, one goal-line stand makes all the difference in winning these types of games," Polamalu said. "That's why it's such a chess match every time we play them. Every single inch, every possession, every field position you have, whether good or bad, has so much to do with the outcome of the game. That's what's so awesome about watching this game."

The Steelers are a relatively healthy team with a week off after they polished off the regular season Jan. 2 by pounding the Cleveland Browns 41-9 to lock up their third AFC North Division title in four years and the No. 2 seed in the conference.

It gave them time to rest some of their wounded and older players and work on things they normally would not have had time to do.

"I thought we had a very productive week last week," coach Mike Tomlin said. "No question there are always issues when you don't play a week. But I would rather have those issues rather than having to play Wild Card weekend."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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