Wednesday, January 12, 2011

NFL Playoff previews: AFC Divisional game 1

Saturday, January 15 - AFC Divisional Game 1
Baltimore Ravens (12-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)

By the numbers:
Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
TeamWLPFPADifPyth
Baltimore 12435727087.660
Pittsburgh 124375232143.757

The AFC divisional weekend features two divisional matchups. So this is the third meeting of the year for the Ravens and Steelers. Conventional wisdom is that these are two physical teams, built on defense and running games. There's some truth to that, but it's also probably overstated.

They split the first two, with Baltimore winning in Pittsburgh and the Steelers returning the favor in week 13 in Baltimore. Over the past four years, the Steelers lead the series 5-3, splitting in '07, '09 and '10, while the Steelers swept in 2008. In addition, the Steelers beat the Ravens in the playoffs in 2008. All of which makes it sound like there's been a Steeler advantage, but not a big one.

Which is not quite true. Here's the interesting thing - the last time that the Ravens beat the Steelers with Roethlisberger starting was Christmas Eve in 2006. They've beaten Pittsburgh three times in the last four years, but in none of those games did Pittsburgh's starting QB play. Over the last four years, Ben Roethlisberger is 6-0 against the Ravens as a starting QB.

Does that mean that Pittsburgh wins this week? No. But that, combined with the facts that Pittsburgh was a better team both offensively and defensively, and they're playing at home, means that the Steelers are probably a better bet than one would think, given that they split this year and each finished 12-4.

Reason to pick the Ravens:
They've already won in Pittsburgh this season, the losses have all been close, and they're certain to beat Roethlisberger at some point.

Reason to pick the Steelers:
They've scored more points and allowed fewer, and the Ravens haven't beaten their QB in four years.

Baltimore wins if:
They can protect a lead against a good team, something they've had trouble doing this year.

Pittsburgh wins if:
They can play well early, allowing them to play from ahead instead of behind.

My Pick:
Pittsburgh

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