Worth Getting Your Hopes Up?

January 14, 2009|By JAMISON HENSLEY

3 reasons for optimism

1. Ravens' defense has controlled Steelers. Even with that controversial touchdown, the Ravens have allowed the Pittsburgh offense into the end zone just twice in two games. The Ravens' defense has limited the Steelers to an average of 274 yards, which is 37 below Pittsburgh's regular-season average.

2. Ravens have been able to run on Pittsburgh. In the first meeting with Pittsburgh, the Ravens totaled 103 rushing yards as a team. In the second one, Le'Ron McClain rushed for 87 yards. Those are surprising numbers against the NFL's No. 2 run defense, which gives up an average of 80.3 yards on the ground.

3. Steelers have a history of choking at home. This is coach Mike Tomlin's first AFC championship game, but Pittsburgh has a history of stumbling in the Steel City, whether it's Heinz Field or Three Rivers Stadium. Since the 1994 season, the Steelers are 1-4 when hosting the AFC championship game. The last time they won at home to advance to the Super Bowl was January 1996, when they edged the Indianapolis Colts, 20-16.

3 reasons for pessimism

1. Joe Flacco has struggled against Pittsburgh. The Steelers are the one AFC North team that the rookie quarterback has failed to improve against the second time around. Flacco has completed 45.7 percent of his passes against Pittsburgh,throwing one touchdown pass and two interceptions. His quarterback rating is 53.4 (his rating against other teams during the regular season was 84.5).

2. Ravens have had troubles at Heinz. The Ravens were the first visiting team to win at Heinz, but there have been few celebrations since then. Starting with a 27-10 playoff loss there in January 2002, the Ravens have lost in seven of eight trips to Pittsburgh.

3. Injuries are piling up. The Ravens are starting to look like a team that is breaking down after playing 17 straight weeks. Linebacker Terrell Suggs could miss his first NFL game with a shoulder sprain. Including Suggs, there are 10 starters battling injuries: cornerbacks Samari Rolle (groin) and Fabian Washington (neck); safety Ed Reed (knee and hamstring); linebacker Jarret Johnson (calf); defensive tackle Justin Bannan (foot); tight end Todd Heap (back); wide receiver Derrick Mason (shoulder); running back Le'Ron McClain (ankle); and offensive tackle Willie Anderson (stinger).

Jamison Hensley

3rd time a charm?

Beginning in the 2000 season, there have been five instances in which a team has won two games against another and then had to face it for a third time in the postseason. A look at what has happened in the third meeting:

Yr. ....... Reg.-season winner ....... Reg.-season loser ......3rd-game result

'00 ............... N.Y. Giants .................... Philadelphia ..... Giants sweep, 20-10

'02 .............. Pittsburgh ........................ Cleveland ..... Steelers sweep, 36-33

'04 ................ St. Louis ........................... Seattle ............ Rams sweep, 27-20

'04 ............. Green Bay .................... Minnesota .... Vikings avoid sweep, 31-17

'07 ................. Dallas ......................... N.Y. Giants ...... Giants avoid sweep, 21-17

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