Week 1 Preview: Baltimore at Pittsburgh

The once-mighty Baltimore Ravens meet the current heavyweight power, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in an opening week match that stinks of a changing of the guard.

The Ravens, who will start rookie phenom Kyle Boller, invade Heinz Field with the goal of throwing a first-strike monkey wrench into the championship caliber machine that the Steelers possess. And if the Steelers were to believe the mass media, the time of the "black-and-gold" dominance over the AFC North has lived a very short life.

The big question is why? Why are the Ravens the cheapest chic pick in some years? Why go with a team that obviously has talent but lacks depth in key positions? Why choose a team whose starting quarterback will be making his regular season debut? Why?

History tells us that the Ravens will win, that's why.

Bill Cowher, over his illustrious (regular-season) 11-year career, has only exited Game 1 victorious 4 times. Add the fact that the Steelers traditionally have problems competing with the ex-patriot Browns.

If fans need more proof, the Ravens return All-Pro tight end Todd Heap (a current and future Steeler killer), a healthy Ray Lewis (former killer), and Jamal Lewis (former superpower running back). The offensive half of the Lewis duo ran for over 1,000 quiet yards last season in his return from a season-long injury. The defensive half (and the previous joke was in bad taste) missed most of last season with an injury, but the defense didn't suffer nearly as badly as most expected.

So the above evidence all points to the fact that the Steelers, sans their best all around linebacker, will fall, to no one's surprise.

Not so fast Sparky.

The Steelers' potent offense showed brief glimpses of the ease at which touchdowns will be achieved this season. Add to that the fact that Pittsburgh's running game, once thought to be the weak link of this team, may actually surprise a few folks. More problems that the Ravens will face are the myriad defensive formations, the likes of which cannot be found on film.

OFFENSE

Pittsburgh – The Steelers return Pro Bowl receiver Hines Ward, future All-Pro receiver Plaxico Burress, and game-breaking Antwaan Randle El. They'll start Amos Zereoue, but future Hall of Fame back Jerome Bettis will see plenty of action, especially in the short yardage situations. If Tommy Maddox stays healthy, this team could lead the league in scoring.

Baltimore – The Ravens have two Pro Bowl caliber weapons in Heap and Lewis. Travis Taylor is an underrated receiver who seems to have big games against the Steelers. But, the Ravens will go as far as Kyle Boller's rookie mistakes will allow.

Advantage: Pittsburgh

DEFENSE

Pittsburgh – The Steelers lost their All-Pro linebacker Joey Porter. But the team still has weapons and should not miss a beat stopping the run. The question is whether they can stop opposing tight ends. And will Chad Scott play 10 yards off the ball at the 5 yard line?

Baltimore – Ray Lewis is the heart and soul of the perennial defensive powerhouse. In the same vein as Junior Seau, Lewis will continue to breathe new life into a young squad. The question here is whether Chris McAlister can finally stop Burress.

Advantage: Baltimore by a bullet

QUARTERBACKS

Tommy Maddox has the weapons, the accuracy, and the arm. Will he have the patience?

Kyle Boller will make mistakes. Will his mistakes cost him?

Advantage: Billick makes a smart move for both Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Boller will be fine come next season, but he'll be no match for Maddox.

OUTLOOK: Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. The Steelers will shock the world and win their home opener.

John Biles
SteelCitySports.com


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