The opening week of the NFL postseason was a strange one.
Not only did three underdogs win games outright, the only home team to win (Seattle) pulled off the biggest upset of all, topping the defending Super Bowl champion Saints despite being 10-point dogs.
This weekend, all four home teams are favored, but notice has been served. Anything can happen in the playoffs.
The only favorite to win last weekend was the Steelers’ opponent today, the Baltimore Ravens.
The Steelers and Ravens are certainly not strangers. Not only do they meet twice per season, but this will be the second time in three seasons that they will meet in the playoffs.
The Steelers swept three games from the Ravens in 2008 en route to a win over Arizona in the Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh split with Baltimore in each of the last two regular seasons. The aggregate scores of those games: 67-67.
This game doesn’t figure to be much different.
Both defenses play their best football against each other because of their familiarity. That means this game is likely to come down to which offense makes the big mistake.
In the Steelers’ 17-14 loss to the Ravens at Heinz Field, the mistake was not being able to convert a first down late in the game from inside their own 10-yard line because of a holding penalty and false start. That forced the Steelers to punt from their own end zone, and Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco made them pay for their mistakes by throwing a game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute to T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
In Pittsburgh’s 13-10 win at Baltimore, safety Troy Polamalu sacked Flacco late in the game, forcing a fumble that the Steelers returned to the 9. It set up Ben Roethlisberger’s game-winning TD pass to running back Isaac Redman.
Roethlisberger has thrown only one interception in the Steelers’ last seven games, and has thrown 158 consecutive passes without an interception.
The Steelers also are 8-2 against the Ravens in games started by Roethlisberger, including winning the last six in a row.
The one area where Baltimore would seem to have a decided advantage is on special teams, where placekicker Billy Cundiff and punter Sam Koch are clearly better than the Steelers’ Shaun Suisham and Jeremy Kopinos.
But that advantage could be negated by the weather, which figures to make every kick a dicey proposition.
That means the game will likely come down to the quarterbacks, and Roethlisberger will be the difference in this one, though it promises to be a close game, which is why the Steelers are favored by three points.
Take Pittsburgh to win, 20-17
Side note: ESPN is reporting that Baltimore running back Ray Rice spent all day Friday throwing up with the flu. The flu swept through my family last weekend and had me feeling the effects for two full days.
If that's the case with Rice, the Ravens are trouble.