Steel City Pre-Game

<b>Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore</b><p> To Bye or Not To Bye, the possibilities are endless.<p> The Steelers, after the defining win of their season just 6 days ago, will attempt to recreate that atmosphere of energy against the Baltimore Ravens in order to launch themselves into the playoffs as one of top two seeds in the AFC.<p>

Although the Ravens have a mathematical chance of winning a wildcard spot, they would need Arizona to defeat Denver (among other things) and that just doesn't seem likely.

What also doesn't seem likely is a Houston defeat of Tennessee, which would open the door for the Steelers to gain a first round bye.

But what does seem likely or at least possible is a Kansas City Chiefs defeat of the Oakland Raiders. Lately, the Raiders haven't been successful at securing first round byes. Last year, a loss to New England coupled with a loss to the NY Jets sent the Raiders to Foxboro in the divisional playoffs.

The Raiders are in that same situation this week. A loss to the Chiefs coupled with a Steelers win would send the Raiders home for the wildcard round and a possible rematch against the Jets, or even the Chiefs. Remember, the Raiders played the Jets in the final week and again in the wildcard round.

Whatever the possibilities, the Steelers must win on Sunday even though their playoff scenario may already be determined before the game's end. The way this team is playing, something tells this writer that a bye week may only serve to break the strong momentum carrying the Steelers into January.

Pittsburgh Rank 5th (Rush 1st, Pass 17th). The Pittsburgh defense is peaking at the right time. The importance of a healthy Kendrell Bell cannot be overlooked. His speed and explosiveness up the middle have been the deciding factors in the play of the defense the past 3 weeks and are now once again enabling the blitz packages that we saw last season. The only question for this game is how much Tim Lewis will want to show.

Baltimore Rank 19th (Rush 11th, Pass 25th). You've got to think Ray Lewis wouldn't have allowed that game-winning drive by Cleveland. He wouldn't have allowed many things to happen this year, but the Ravens don't have the luxury of his abilities.

Advantage: Something tells me Baltimore's defense will be hit hard early and often before they have a chance to settle down. Pittsburgh's defense, by comparison, will not.

Pittsburgh Rank 5th (Rush 9th, Pass 6th). The offense for the Steelers has been its one consistent asset. Granted, it had its own bad game of the year (perhaps of the decade), but there is no evidence to believe that the Steelers will be unable to put up at least 20 points per game the rest of the way. At this point, it's important for the running game to fine-tune its problems. I'd also rather play a questionable Bettis than let him sit any more weeks.

Baltimore Rank 27th (Rush 16th, Pass 29th). Jamal Lewis is back. That being said, he doesn't have much of anything else to work with, except for Pro Bowl Todd Heap, the tight end. Lewis by his own admittance is not 100%, but Steeler fans should take note: Next time Lewis lines up against the Steelers, he will be a much more difficult back to bring down (barring injury).

Advantage: Unless Todd Heap scores 3 touchdowns and Jeff Blake throws for over 400 yards, the Steeler offense is king. And once again the Baltimore secondary is baiting Plexico Burress….

Tommy Maddox had a career game on Monday Night and he didn't do anything spectacular after the first quarter. That's what this team has always needed - A quarterback who manages a game without having to carry the team.

Jeff Blake has done a marvelous job this year connecting with Todd Heap. That's about all he's been able to accomplish. He didn't come through last week when the Ravens desperately needed one more score. That's always been his style.

Advantage: Maddox is hot and confident. AND he's eliminated the interceptions and appears to have settled into being a quarterback for a ball-control offense.

Outlook: Look for the Steelers to put away Baltimore going away.

--The Steel Apple

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