4:30 PM ET, January 15, 2011
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
The Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers have long been defined by their defenses, so it's natural that the two AFC North powers have embraced a back-and-forth rivalry characterized by their physicality and down-to-the-wire finishes.
It's a quarterback, however, who's swung the pendulum in Pittsburgh's favor.
The Steelers have won the last six installments of one of the NFL's fiercest rivalries when Ben Roethlisberger has played, a trend they'll hope to continue when the Ravens travel to Heinz Field for Saturday's AFC Divisional showdown.
It's been referred to as Armageddon, World War III and "personal between the two cities," and those are only the labels placed on the rivalry by Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs since a 30-7 wild-card victory at Kansas City on Sunday.
"The team that wins this game is going to be the most violent team, the team that is most physical," Steelers defensive lineman Chris Hoke told the team's official website. "It's the team that goes out there to push the other team around."
Pittsburgh and Baltimore both finished 12-4 in the regular season and scored 27 points apiece in their two meetings, each winning by a field goal on the other's home field. Five of the seven meetings over the past 28 months have been decided by three points, one by four and the other nine -- that courtesy of Troy Polamalu's late interception return in the 2009 AFC championship game that sent the Steelers to their seventh Super Bowl.
In 17 meetings since 2003, the teams have each scored 302 points.
The fifth-seeded Ravens didn't have much trouble against the Chiefs, forcing five turnovers, while the Steelers watched wild-card weekend at home after securing the No. 2 seed. That luxury, again, came largely thanks to Polamalu, whose fourth-quarter strip of Joe Flacco in Week 13 set up a late Roethlisberger touchdown pass to secure a 13-10 comeback win in Baltimore.
"For such a small margin, what a big difference that makes," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "But we kind of understand who we are. We understand our path, our road. We're not intimidated by it at all. We're looking forward to it. We wouldn't have it any other way."
Sunday's win was Baltimore's fourth away from home in the postseason since Flacco took over as a rookie in 2008, and the Ravens have reason to be confident Saturday despite Pittsburgh being rested. From 1990-2004, home teams were 49-11 in the divisional round. Since 2005, they're just 10-10.
"It's a lot of fun to come on the road and into places like this and be confident in yourself and be confident in your teammates that you're going to get the job done. That's really how we feel," said Flacco, the NFL's second highest-rated passer (103.4) since Week 3, trailing only likely MVP Tom Brady.
Flacco, the first quarterback to start and win a playoff game in each of his first three seasons, hasn't fared so well against Pittsburgh. He's thrown six touchdowns and seven interceptions while posting a 69.5 rating in seven meetings.
Five of those came with Roethlisberger healthy for the Steelers, and the two-time Super Bowl winner has certainly done his part to tilt the rivalry in Pittsburgh's favor. Roethlisberger has thrown 10 TD passes in winning six straight versus Baltimore.
"I don't think there's any magic recipe other than I guess I'm lucky," said Roethlisberger, who had his nose broken by Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata in Week 13.
Perhaps with his healing nose in mind, the Steelers quarterback admitted he doesn't exactly look forward to facing Baltimore.
"As a competitor, you love it. But heck no, I hate playing the Ravens because they're so good," Roethlisberger said. "On defense, every single person and every scheme, everything they do, it challenges you."
Polamalu is nursing a right Achilles' tendon injury that he expects to be better following the week off, while his counterpart is dealing with a much more personal distraction. Baltimore All-Pro safety Ed Reed, whose younger brother was reported missing Jan. 7 in Louisiana, spent a day with his family following the win over Kansas City.
Reed was back at practice Tuesday and should play Saturday. Baltimore certainly needs him -- he led the league with eight interceptions despite missing the first six games of the season with a hip injury.
Reed has one interception in nine games against Roethlisberger.
Success on the ground figures to be unlikely considering the Ravens and Steelers haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in their last 28 combined playoff games, but the presence of Mike Wallace and Anquan Boldin offer hope for big plays through the air
Baltimore will definitely need to pay close attention to Wallace. Pittsburgh's speedy second-year wideout led the NFL in receiving yards over the last nine weeks, and his 20.3 yards per catch is the second-most in league history over a receiver's first two seasons.
Wallace hasn't scored in four career games against the Ravens. Baltimore's biggest offensive weapon, running back Ray Rice, hasn't scored in six games versus Pittsburgh.
Saturday's winner will face either the Jets or Patriots in the AFC championship game after those two division rivals also meet for a third time. But even with plenty of talk leading up to that grudge match, Steelers receiver Hines Ward doesn't think it measures up to Steelers-Ravens.
"The Jets and Patriots are great teams, but they're just getting started," Ward said. "This has been going on for years."
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1. This is a big-time rivalry: This is primed to be the most physical game of the year. These teams split during the regular season, with each win coming by only three points. Baltimore has been an excellent road playoff team, and its mental toughness cannot be denied. The Ravens have now won five straight and have not lost a game all year by more than a touchdown. But they are operating on a short week. Pittsburgh lost only one game at home this season and should be very well rested for this game. All four of the Steelers' losses this season came against playoff teams.
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|Avg Points Allowed||19.0||24.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||BAL|
|Rush Yds Allowed||BAL|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Pittsburgh leads 14-9|
|Dec 5, 2010||BAL 10, PIT 13|
|Oct 3, 2010||BAL 17, @PIT 14|
|Dec 27, 2009||BAL 20, @PIT 23|
|Nov 29, 2009||BAL 20, PIT 17|
|Jan 18, 2009||BAL 14, @PIT 23|
|Dec 14, 2008||BAL 9, PIT 13|
|Sep 29, 2008||BAL 20, @PIT 23|
|Dec 30, 2007||BAL 27, PIT 21|
|Nov 5, 2007||BAL 7, @PIT 38|
|Dec 24, 2006||BAL 31, @PIT 7|
|Nov 26, 2006||BAL 27, PIT 0|
|Nov 20, 2005||BAL 16, PIT 13|
|Oct 31, 2005||BAL 19, @PIT 20|
|Dec 26, 2004||BAL 7, @PIT 20|
|Sep 19, 2004||BAL 30, PIT 13|
|Dec 28, 2003||BAL 13, PIT 10|
|Sep 7, 2003||BAL 15, @PIT 34|
|Dec 29, 2002||BAL 31, @PIT 34|
|Oct 27, 2002||BAL 18, PIT 31|
|Jan 20, 2002||BAL 10, @PIT 27|
|Dec 16, 2001||BAL 21, PIT 26|
|Nov 4, 2001||BAL 13, @PIT 10|
Ben Roethlisberger has won his last 6 games vs the Ravens, including the postseason... This is all since the start of the 2007 season. Roethlisberger was suspended for the first game vs Baltimore this season. He was inactive for the games in November 2009 and December 2007.[+]
Ben Roethlisberger vs Ravens - Since 2007, Including Postseason
Everyone knows that defense wins championships in the NFL. But since 2004, the BEST defense in the league in terms of opponent PPG has won just 1 Super Bowl. The 2008 Steelers were also the only league-leading defense to even make it to the Super Bowl over the last 6 seasons.[+]
Led NFL in Opponent PPG - Since 2004
ESPN Stats & Information