Ravens have what it takes to topple Steelers

I was flipping channels last night after watching the BCS national championship game (congrats go out to Ben Grubbs’ Auburn Tigers) when I stumbled upon an NFL Network replay of this season’s Week 4 matchup between the Ravens and Steelers up at Heinz Field.

Boy, do I need a new hobby. After writing about football all day, I got home and proceeded to watch about five hours of football on television. I should look into joining a gym or taking a cooking class or something.

Anyway, as I watched that October game between the Ravens and Steelers, I started thinking about this Saturday’s matchup and the chances of the Ravens repeating their road win in Pittsburgh from earlier in the season and earning their first playoff victory against the Steelers in team history.

And here’s what I realized: Ravens fans should be more optimistic about it happening than ever before.

Here’s why:

Joe_Flacco-Ben_Roethlisberger.jpgFirst of all, I’ve never been completely sold on the Steelers this season. They’re a good team, for sure, and any squad that features the league’s second-ranked defense and has Ben Roethlisberger under center will be a handful. But overall, their offense is middle of the pack in the NFL and doesn’t present any real matchup problems for the Ravens, and defensively, they lack some of the intimidation factor that they’ve had in previous years.

The Steelers are still incredibly tough against the run, but there are some opportunities for the Ravens to do some things through the air. Defensive end Aaron Smith, Pittsburgh’s top pass-rushing down lineman, has missed most of the season with an arm injury and appears unlikely to play Saturday, and All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu is nursing an Achilles injury, which limited him down the stretch.

Meanwhile, the Ravens will enter this game coming off their most complete all-around effort of the season in Sunday’s win over the Chiefs. Quarterback Joe Flacco no longer looks gun shy in postseason play, the defense has hit its stride and is forcing a turnover on seemingly every other snap, and Baltimore’s special teams are as consistent as any team’s in the league.

Pittsburgh will be a much bigger test than Kansas City, no doubt about it. But the Ravens have some swagger now, and they’ve got all the faith in the world they can go on the road and take care of business yet again.

Part of that confidence can come from that Week 4 win at Heinz Field. That was a huge comeback victory for the Ravens, who earned a win in Pittsburgh for the first time since December 2006 and finally did away with the Heinz hex. They should be able to look back on that win as they prepare this week, and will go into Pittsburgh this weekend knowing that they’re capable of winning in the Steel City.

“We understand our path, our road,” head coach John Harbaugh said yesterday. “We’re not intimidated by it at all. We’re looking forward to it. We wouldn’t have it any other way at this point.”

Am I saying the Ravens are definitely going to beat Pittsburgh on Saturday? Am I guaranteeing a victory and an AFC championship game appearance for Harbaugh’s team?

Nope, that’s not how I roll. But I am saying that I think the Ravens are more prepared to head into Pittsburgh and earn a win than they were back in 2008, when they came up short of a conference title.

And deep down, I think those in the Ravens locker room feel that way, too.

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