Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What's Really At Stake: Steelers vs. Ravens

What does this game really mean this weekend to the Pittsburgh Steelers. I mean that seems like kind of a loaded question when you really sit back and think about it. It is the Ravens, we are going to their place for a Sunday night prime time contest and the division is on the line. What more could there be? I mean the Ravens are cocks and think they are the talk of the town and the Steelers are a team most thought would barely be able to make .500 this year. Well below the surface of these points there is a lot more riding on this game than some may think.

The foremost is winning the division. With both teams at 8-3 the winner of this will have a game at hand on the other with only four games left to play. Looking at the schedule both teams have some tough games left to play and some division games so obviously anything can happen, but this may be the game that will dictate this.

Here is the Steelers remaining schedule:

Here is what the Ravens are looking at:

So as you can see both teams both have divisional games against the Bengals and Browns. The Steelers made pretty easy time with the Browns and had a pretty touch time with the Bengals. The Ravens dropped a game to the Bengals and had a real hard time with the Browns. Both games for both teams are no gimmies. Both teams also have a pretty good challenge when the Steelers meet the Jets and the Ravens take on the Saints. The other game on the schedule pits the Steelers against the Panthers and the Ravens against the Texans, both which should go down as wins.

As you can see there is a very, very, good chance that both of these teams will have the same record down the stretch after they play each other on Sunday night. That makes the one game lead that either one of these teams gets on Sunday night even more important. Right now both teams are 2-1 in the division and 6-2 in conference games, both are two of the main tie breakers if these teams somehow split the season series and have a tie record wise. Obviously the winner of this game also gains a game on both tie-breakers, huge.

The lesser of the concern with the game is what potential it might have in terms of playoff seeding. Here is how the league looks right now going into week 13:

Granted this isn’t a playoff picture because both the Patriots and Jets are in the same division as the Ravens and Steelers, but from what you can see the winner of the Steelers/Ravens game is going to have a nice track on picking up that second bye behind either the Pats or the Jets going into the playoffs.

Sure could the winner of the AFC West or AFC South make a run and push for one of those byes but it is look like an outside possibility with the way the teams are playing and the record of the teams that are in that position.

A few reason this is very important for the Steelers. The first is that the Steelers are one of the most banged up teams in the NFL. Sure the Steelers aren’t going to get back Max Starks or Willie Colon, and the offensive line is still going to be a shuffle, but any time you can play one less game with an offensive line that is hurting as much as the Steelers had then that is a good thing.

Players like Troy, Hines, Kemo, Keisel, BMac and Aaron Smith have been banged up all year and another week off can always do the body good, especially for Smith. Looks like Smith is targeting coming back before the playoffs actually start but to have another bye week and get him more treatment can gear him up for a sprint run for a Super Bowl.

The second point, and probably most important point, is that I do not want to see New England in the divisional round. Obviously I am making the assumption that New England is going to beat the Jets on Monday night and thus will give them the upper hand on the number one seed, and to be honest I see New England being the top dog this season out of the AFC.

It is no secret that we have a bad track record with the Patriots and struggle with them no matter how bad their team may or may not be. This year the Patriots just took the Steelers behind the woodshed and pushed them around. It was not pretty and not something I want to see again. I would like to hold off on playing them as long as possible, and the only way to do that is to get that number two seed and see them possibly in the AFC Championship game. Would I like revenge on them in the playoffs? Sure I would, but the later in the playoffs that will take us is ok with me.

Another great way to look at staving off a tough Patriots team is to have other teams beat them. By getting the second seed teams that match up much better against the Patriots (Jets, Colts, Ravens) with have a shot at them and a chance to knock them off without us even having to play them. Not seeing Tom Brady is ok with me if it means a shot at the Super Bowl. I feel much better playing other teams than the Patriots due to our track record and Brady’s obvious skill at just dropping three steps and hitting receivers quick, something the Steelers have a hard time stopping.

So looking over everything this game Sunday is more than just bragging rights. It is much more than just beating a team that every person in Steelers Nation hates. It goes much deeper than that in the grand scheme of things.

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