- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2009

Baltimore Ravens (13-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (13-4)

When: 6:30 p.m. | Where: Heinz Field | TV/radio: Chs. 9, 13; ESPN 980 | Line: Steelers by 6 | Last meeting: Steelers 13-9 (Dec. 14 in Baltimore)

Key injuries: Ravens - Out: LB Antwan Barnes (shoulder). Doubtful: CB Samari Rolle (thigh); Questionable: RB Le’Ron McClain (ankle), TE Todd Heap (back), WR Mark Clayton (thigh), LB Terrell Suggs (shoulder), WR Derrick Mason (knee), DT Justin Bannan (foot), LB Jarret Johnson (calf). Probable: LB Ray Lewis (shoulder), RB Lorenzo Neal (shoulder), S Ed Reed (knee). Steelers - Probable: C Justin Hartwig (knee), S Troy Polamalu (calf).

KEY MATCHUP

Steelers RB Willie Parker vs. Ravens MLB Ray Lewis

Parker and the Steelers backs will have to be effective enough against Lewis and Co. to prevent quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from facing the dangerous third-and-long situations when the Ravens thrive. If Parker performs well and the Steelers hold onto the ball, that could make the difference.

WHEN BALTIMORE HAS THE BALL

The Ravens have been efficient with rookie Joe Flacco at quarterback. The offense committed 19 turnovers during the regular season and just one in playoff wins at Miami and Tennessee. Flacco makes just enough big plays to keep defenses honest, even as top running back Le’Ron McClain has slumped in the postseason. Flacco played well in the Ravens’ 23-20 loss at Pittsburgh despite absorbing five sacks, but Baltimore managed just three field goals in the rematch. The Steelers’ aggressive 3-4 defense allowed the NFL’s fewest points and yards.

Edge: Steelers

WHEN PITTSBURGH HAS THE BALL

It wasn’t a good year for Pittsburgh’s offense, particularly on the ground. The Steelers fell from third to 23rd in rushing and allowed at least 46 sacks for a third straight season. Still, Roethlisberger was solid in both games against the Ravens, leading a winning 92-yard drive in the latter. Running back Willie Parker had his best game of the year last week against San Diego. Led by safeties Ed Reed and Jim Leonhard, Baltimore’s defense has been terrific in the postseason, forcing eight turnovers and allowing just 19 points.

Edge: Ravens

PREDICTION: Steelers 17, Ravens 13

The teams combined for 43 points in their first meeting but just 22 in their second. To maintain that trend, they would score 11 this time. It shouldn’t be quite so low-scoring, but it should be tight. Injuries to linebacker Terrell Suggs and cornerback Samari Rolle will have Baltimore’s defense at less than full strength and the Steelers squeak by.

-David Elfin


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