Friday, January 16, 2009

Cohen's AFC Championship Coverage

BALTIMORE RAVENS (13-5) @ PITTSBURGH STEELERS (13-4)

It is good thing that this game will be higlighted in prime time on Sunday night, because it is the type of game that you keep the kids away from watching. No the game is not rated TV-MA, but considering the number of bone-crushing hits that are to occur in this one, it might as well have a rating.

The Ravens and Steelers hate each other with a passion. It is a rivarly that goes all the way back to when the Ravens used to be the Cleveland Browns, before moving to Baltimore in 1996, as the Browns and Steelers always met to clash for a division title in the old AFC Central.

Since the Ravens came into existence, the theme has stayed the same, especially this year. In week 15, the Steelers stood at 10-3 and the Ravens were just a game behind at 9-4. The winner would not only win the AFC North, but would have the inside track on the number two seed in the AFC playoffs.

The Ravens had the upper hand for three quarters as they built up a 9-3 lead, forcing two turnovers and smacking around quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Yet the Steelers would not go away. Late in the game with Baltimore up 9-6, and the Steelers moving into field goal range, all the Ravens needed was one stop and they would have won the game.

On third down and four at the Ravens four yard line, Roethlisberger hit a wide open Santonio Holmes near the goalline. Holmes hauled the pass into his grasp, and had both feet down in the endzone, but never had the ball over the plain for the touchdown. The play was orginally spotted at the one yard line, but after an offical review, the Steelers were awarded a touchdown and the 13-9 victory.

That game was a pain in the Ravens side ever since. It was their opportunity to win the division and they blew it on a disputed call. Expect to see a highly motivated Ravens team on the field for this title game.

The Ravens use a vast assortment of blitzes to confuse opposing offenses, and quarterbacks. The Ravens were second in the NFL behind Pittsburgh in total defense and have forced seven turnovers this postseason.

Offensively, Joe Flacco has done a nice job leading the team at quarterback, but has completed only 20 passes in 45 attempts in the playoffs. Against Pittsburgh in December, Flacco was awful completing only 39 percent of his passes and getting picked off twice. Flacco will need to pick it up if the Ravens are to win this ball game.

As for the Steelers, they have arguably been the most consistent team all season. They played the toughest schedule in the league entering 2008, and found a way to win 12 games convincingly. The Steelers had the number one defense in football, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a big year in spite of injuries and a lack of a consistent running game. Expect Pittsburgh to find a little something to match that intesity of the Ravens and take advantage of a few fumbles here and there to win this football game.

It will be a tight contest, in bitter cold weather, with a chance of snow. Can you ask for better in a championship game? PICK: STEELERS 20, RAVENS 10.

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