Road to playoffs goes through Pittsburgh (again).

It would not be a Ravens' season if it didn't include a memorable clash late in the schedule against the Pittsburgh Steelers. For the fourth season in a row, the two teams will square off in a match-up that will have an impact on both teams' postseason aspirations. Pittsburgh has already sewn up the AFC North division title, and with a win on Sunday against Baltimore, it will secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

On the other hand, Baltimore just wants to get to the big dance. The Ravens shot themselves in the foot on Sunday, wasting away a tremendous defensive effort against the Peyton Manning led Indianapolis Colts. However, with a win against Pittsburgh, the Ravens would take a needed step towards securing a postseason birth.

If the season ended today the Jacksonville Jaguars would earn a trip to the playoffs based on a better record against common opponents. The Ravens own a tiebreaker over the Buffalo Bills at this point based on a head-to-head tiebreaker.

If the Ravens win its last two games, and end up tied with Jacksonville with a 10-6 record, the Ravens would make the playoffs based on the strength of victory tiebreaker. There is no scenario in which Jacksonville will have defeated opponents with more wins on their schedule than that of the Ravens'. In addition, the Ravens would also make the playoffs if they win out, and the Jaguars lose one game out of the last two it plays.

The only team that has a tiebreaker advantage over the Ravens is the Denver Broncos. If both the Ravens and the Broncos end the season with a 10-6 record, Denver makes the playoffs based on winning the common opponents tiebreaker. Of course, there is also a scenario in which New York loses its final two games, and if the Ravens win its final two, Baltimore would make the playoffs over the Jets.

Despite all of these scenarios in the Ravens' favor, the No.1 scenario that is not in their favor at the moment is the prospect of defeating the Steelers at Heinz field on Sunday. The Steelers are undefeated at home, notching impressive wins over the Patriots, Eagles and Jets.

Despite its recent struggles however, the Ravens are a team that is equipped to defeat the Steelers on the road. Unlike those other teams, the Ravens will not be afraid to get entangled in a street fight with arguably the toughest, most physical team in the NFL. Baltimore's rush attack is revived, and the defensive play has been stellar since a late fourth-quarter collapse against Cincinnati. If Plaxico Burress and Duce Staley are out for Sunday's match-up, it will be that much tougher for Pittsburgh to move the ball against Baltimore's defense.

Of course, the big question is can the Ravens score even one touchdown against Pittsburgh's defense? Against the Colts, the Ravens offense moved the ball at will, only to be denied repeatedly once they got past the 50-yard line. The offense had trouble scoring against an Indianapolis defense that has been improving, but is in no way shape or form comparable to Pittsburgh's stingy defense. The Steelers are ranked No.1 in total defense, and boast a tough run defense and active pass rush.

Pittsburgh's game plan all season has been to build an early lead then let loose its pass rushers on a quarterback, forcing him to make mistakes. The defense has forced turnovers in bunches all season, while the Pittsburgh offense, led by rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, has not turned the ball over much at all. Assuming that this game holds true to form, the Ravens will need to legitimately beat the Steelers, because Pittsburgh will not beat itself.

Over the last four seasons, the Ravens have needed to beat the Steelers at the end of the season for various reasons.

In 2001, the Ravens faced Pittsburgh in Baltimore in a game that decided which team would win the old AFC Central title. The Steelers came out on top, dominating the defending Super Bowl champions in its own stadium.

In 2002, the Ravens came into Heinz field and needed a win to qualify for the playoffs at an 8-8 record. Despite outplaying the Steelers for three-quarters, the young Ravens squandered an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter, and left Pittsburgh with an L in the win/loss column.

Last season, Baltimore needed to beat Pittsburgh to earn a berth over the Cincinnati Bengals assuming that Cincinnati would defeat the Cleveland Browns in the final game of the season. The Browns bailed out the Ravens witha a before the Ravens and Steelers squared off, enabling the Ravens to win the AFC North division. However, the Ravens still felt that they needed to defeat the Steelers in Baltimore to get the Pittsburgh monkey off its back.

Given the chance, these teams would no doubt line up in backyard alley and slug it out. Even if these teams had losing records and there were no playoff implications hovering around the outcome, the game would still mean something because it's between Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Despite the playoff implications for both teams this year, there are still bragging rights at stake and it's going to get ugly.

Dev Panchwagh is a staff writer for RavensInsider If you are reading this via a news portal, you can find the original and talk to Dev at at www.ravensinsider.com

 


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