The Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Divisional Round Playoff, starts at 3:30 Saturday, the first game of the weekend. Which is fine with most players on both teams. They've seen enough of each other. Just as they do every year, both being in the AFC North, they've already played twice this season. They split their series this year, each team winning (or losing) by a field goal. They both ended the regular season with a 12-4 record. And both they, and their fans, must be tired of hearing about the similarities between their two teams.
But realistically, any comparison between the two teams, can only lead back to that same place: These teams are nearly a mirror image of one another. The blue-collar work ethic that Pittsburgh and Baltimore are both known for, are evident in the make-up of their teams. Finesse is adding an elbow to the side of the head, before the punch in the mouth. Or in the nose, as Ben Roethlisberger can attest.
You have to go back to 2007 to find a regular season game with a victory margin of over four points. In fact, to a casual observer, it's tempting to suggest these two teams have each been built specifically with defeating one another in mind.
There is a sense of resignation in their tone, when players on either side talk about the upcoming game. Roethlisberger recently said, "I hate playing these guys because they're so good, especially on defense."
And they are. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is the leader and motivator of their bruising defense. Safety Ed Reed is all over the field delivering jarring hits. And Terrell Suggs when not holding forth for the press, can usually be found assaulting an offensive back.
Of course, the Pittsburgh Steelers have long been the blueprint for punishing defenses. Troy Polamalu may be the most difficult man in the league to contain. He will literally fly over an offensive line to break up a play in the backfield. And if he's not in your backfield, you better make sure he's not within 10 yards of your receiver, or he's going to end up with a defended pass or an interception. It's almost a given. And James Harrison has a reputation for physical play, so much so that he may be the first player to ever end a season losing money playing professional football, with all the fines levied against him. The rumor in Pittsburgh is that the NFL recently fined Harrison for hitting the showers.
Maybe he should take out his frustrations on Roethlisberger. He seems to be the one quarterback in the NFL it's still okay to hit with impunity. It could be that he's built more like the linebackers hitting him, than a typical QB, but even a casual observer would have to say that he absorbs some hits that would result in fines, maybe even suspensions if they were delivered on some other passers in the league.
But Ben, and the Steelers can take it. Dish it out, too. Likewise the Ravens. The games are close, with one constant. Ravens QB Joe Flacco, has never beaten Big Ben in head to head competition.
A New Tradition?: Last week, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, took a left-handed swipe at New England QB Tom Brady, while complimenting Colts QB Peyton Manning, who the Jets faced in the wildcard round. The Jets beat the Colts, and are now preparing to take on Brady and the Pats in the divisional round.
Did that give Ravens LB Terrell Suggs an idea? In a radio interview while praising Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, he called Brady's three Super Bowl rings "questionable". Maybe we're witnessing the new NFL good luck superstition. Take a pot shot at Brady, and maybe you'll advance to play him next week.