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The weekend is almost here and I can't take much more discussion about what some Jet just said. The real NFL news over the next 45 hours will be the first three games of this weekend, so I'm going to go ahead and start threads on each of those games now.
#5 Baltimore Ravens (13-4) at #2 Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
Saturday January 15 at 4:30 p.m. EST on CBS
Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf will announce the game on TV
Dave Sims and James Lofton and James Tasker will do the radio broadcast
Pittsburgh is currently favored by 3 to 3½ points
Over under is 37 points
The Money Line has Baltimore from +145 to +155; Pittsburgh -165 to -175
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Lewis is one of many veterans on the Ravens who don't know how many more shots they'll have to reach the Super Bowl. The Ravens have 17 players who are 30 or older, which represents almost one-third of their roster.
"The only way teams that have a mix of veterans and younger guys advance is the younger guys understand what's on a veteran's mind and what he is playing for," wide receiver Derrick Mason said.
"That's the only thing that has eluded me over my 14-year career is a Super Bowl ring," he said. "Some guys might think that I have all of these catches and yards and I can just leave. But for me, I came into this game to win. As I started getting a little older, my mindset changed — I have to win a Super Bowl now. Anything less than that is a failure."
Once the season is over, the Ravens' next challenge is keeping the team together.
Nearly half of the Ravens' current 53-man roster are potential free agents, including eight starters (cornerback Chris Carr, guard Chris Chester, safety Dawan Landry, linebacker Jameel McClain, fullback Le'Ron McClain, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, cornerback Josh Wilson, offensive tackle Marshal Yanda) and two specialists (kicker Billy Cundiff and punter Sam Koch).
It's unknown how many players the Ravens will be able to bring back, which adds more pressure on the team to win now.
"I know it's in the back of people's head what the locker room will look like next year," Le'Ron McClain said. "It probably will be totally different."
Eight starters — six on defense, two on offense — are age 30 or older. The window of opportunity for the core of this Steelers team to win its third Super Bowl since the 2005 season is starting to close.
Couple that with a looming lockout next season, and AFC divisional playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday at Heinz Field takes on heightened importance.
Many of the parts from this generation of Super Steelers remains intact: Smith, Hines Ward, Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, James Farrior and Ike Taylor, to name a few. Of that group, only Roethlisberger (28) and Polamalu (29) are younger than 30. Polamalu turns 30 in April.
And they're still more than productive.
Farrior, the defensive captain and at 36 one of the team's oldest players, finished second in tackles and completed his fifth consecutive season without missing a game. Led by Farrior, the defense was the NFL's top-ranked unit against the run and finished second in total defense.
But some players' roles are changing.
• Smith has been plagued by injuries the past two seasons and spent more time on the sideline — 11 games last season and 10 this season — than on the field.
• Ward is relinquishing his role as the team's top receiver to second-year wideout Mike Wallace.
• Receiver Antwaan Randle El, who signed with the Steelers in the offseason to be the team's No. 3 receiver and make another Super Bowl run, has been supplanted by rookie Emmanuel Sanders.
When the Ravens have the ball: Joe Flacco already is tied for most road playoff wins by a quarterback in a career (4), but one of his two road playoff losses was in the 2008 AFC Championship game in Heinz Field when he was sacked three times and threw three interceptions. But Flacco beat the Steelers in the regular-season meeting this season at Heinz Field when he completed all four pass attempts on the winning touchdown drive. He has become adept at reading coverage and using the whole field to run crossing routes. Flacco relies on three veteran receivers -- Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh -- in addition to RB Ray Rice, who was second on the team with 63 catches. Boldin led the team with 64 catches and seven TDs in the regular season. Rice is the only running back in the past 50 games to rush for more than 100 yards against the Steelers.
When the Steelers have the ball: The Ravens' biggest problem is QB Ben Roethlisberger, who is playoff-tested and finished the regular season with 158 consecutive passes without an interception. Roethlisberger has won his past six games against the Ravens and is 8-2 against them in his career. His nose was broken in the first quarter of the last meeting, but he made the winning plays when he had to in the final minutes. Despite the presence of S Ed Reed, Roethlisberger won't be afraid to attack deep with WR Mike Wallace, who has become the most dangerous big-play receiver in the NFL. Teams have been trying to take advantage of MLB Ray Lewis in third-down situations by isolating him in coverage with a running back or tight end. RB Rashard Mendenhall had 124 yards on 44 carries in two games against the Ravens this season, but he didn't have a run longer than 11 yards.
TE Todd Heap ... The Ravens wanted to use him more in the game in Baltimore, but he injured his hamstring running a deep route on the first play and did not return. Heap had 10 catches for 108 yards in the wild-card victory Sunday against Kansas City, and the Ravens are hoping to get him isolated in mismatches against linebackers. The Steelers have allowed four TD passes to a tight end in 2010 -- three by New England's Rob Gronkowski.
To win, the Ravens must ...
1. Have Flacco on the attack. He must spread the field and throw at least 35 times if the Ravens want to advance to the AFC Championship game.
2. Break Ben. The Ravens don't fear any player as much as they do Roethlisberger, who beats them even when he has a broken nose.
3. Be Bold with Anquan. Boldin had five catches for 118 yards and one touchdown against the Steelers in the previous meeting.
To win, the Steelers must ...
1. Fry Rice. He has nine games with 100 or more yards from scrimmage in 2010, including a career-best 233 against New Orleans in Week 15.
2. Mug Suggs. Not only is Terrell Suggs difficult to block, he is difficult to locate because he moves around so much.
3. Put Todd in a heap of trouble. The Steelers might have to use Polamalu to match against the Ravens' tight end.