The biggest difference, of course, being at quarterback where the Ravens have a rookie in Joe Flacco and the Steelers have a guy in Ben Roethlisberger who has numerous playoff appearances and a Super Bowl win on his resume.
Obviously teams generally turn things up a notch in the postseason, but expect the intensity in this contest to be even greater than your normal playoff game. This is a pair of division rivals whose two contests earlier in the season -- both won by Pittsburgh -- were decided by a total of seven points. And it's no secret that the clubs simply don't like each other. Between wide receiver Hines Ward's bone-jarring blindside blocks and the alleged bounties placed on him by the Ravens defense, there appears to be a lot of bad blood between the two, which always adds another level to a game of this magnitude.
The Steelers' strategy in this contest is going to be to try to shut down the Ravens' three-headed running attack of Le'Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice, which would force Flacco to beat them with his arm. Given that last week was the first time in NFL history that a rookie quarterback has won two playoff games in one year, it seems like a sound strategy.
At this point, though, Flacco isn't playing like a rookie and has shown he can win in the postseason. Of course, a lot of the credit goes to his defense. Nonetheless, he has played respectably for a guy with his lack of experience. The key will be limiting his mistakes and avoiding the turnovers. On the other hand, the Steelers will try to get in the rookie's head early with their effective zone-blitzing schemes. On the flip side, the Ravens will come after Roethlisberger as well and try to capitalize on suspect pass protection.
Both teams will employ similar strategies on offense as well, trying to establish the run and attacking deep on the outside. Both Flacco and Roethlisberger will look more to the sidelines than the middle of the field for the big play in the hopes of keeping safeties Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed from helping out in coverage and making impact plays. With Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle doubtful for this contest, that strategy seems even more inviting for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh also has the added benefit of a healthy Willie Parker, who is as close to 100% as he has been most of the season. Yards on the ground will be tough to come by, however, and it will be difficult for either team to keep the chains moving and control the clock, which means making big plays in the passing game will be critical to the success of both teams.
In the end, though, both quarterbacks are likely to be scrambling for their lives all afternoon and points are going to come at a premium. But the edge in experience Roethlisberger has over Flacco should be the deciding factor in a low-scoring contest.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 17, Baltimore 12
Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images