Steelers vs Ravens: Odds are even a loss could be a win for the season

Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE

The Steelers will not have QB Ben Roethlisberger in what was being considered an epic showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens Sunday night.

This game is now being viewed by many as an anti-climatic exercise in futility for the Steelers given their injuries, and their performance last week against the Kansas City Chiefs.

That is, if you believe in what the bookies in Vegas are saying, having changed the odds from the Steelers being favored by four and a half points, to the Ravens favored by three;

That is, if you believe what Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and all the talking heads in the mainstream media are projecting as the outcome of this game.

Of course, those same bookies in Vegas, a constituency NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL seem to curry from afar, picked the Steelers to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs by 12 points.

Of course, those same mainstream media types were projecting a blazing comet of a game by Haley's offense against the team that dismissed him as their head coach just 11 months ago.

It's too bad the credibility these prognosticators have with the public isn't as fickle as their success rate.

One thing that is more certain than prognosticator's picks; more certain than Goodell's regular referees making the replacement refs look competent; more certain than Ravens head coach John Harbaugh finding another way to demonstrate his lack of sportsmanship or class...

...one absolute certainty about this game, win or lose, is that "how" the Steelers play will set the tone for the rest of their season.

If the Steelers offensive line that showed up against the New York Giants makes an appearance Sunday night at Heinz Field, Byron Leftwich (whose last meaningful game was ironically enough in November four years ago) will have time to use the cannon arm he still possesses to find Mike Wallace or Emmanuel Sanders down field, in an area the Ravens are weak...

...and if the Steelers running backs that performed so well against the Bengals, Redskins and Giants don't hesitate at the LOS but instead use the power running they showed in previous games, Byron Leftwich will be spared the kind of brutal hits that otherwise would make him the Elijah Price of the NFL.

If the Steelers defense can reprise the creative coverage it implemented against RGIII of the Redskins, and make the Ravens receivers cry "No Mas" like Victor Cruz of the Giants did...

...and if James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Brett Keisel and Lawrence Timmons adopt the Cobra Kai mantra of "Strike first, strike hard, show no mercy" against Ravens QB Joe Flacco, then win or lose, they will have set the right tone for the rest of the season.

Lest they forget, the Steelers have the Cleveland Browns the very next game. The Browns always ramp themselves up for games against the Steelers; a win against their hated rivals gives the Browns and their fans the only solace in their otherwise perpetual years of sorrows.

And then the Steelers, facing the Ravens the very next week in Baltimore, will also be going up against the Ravens' home field winning streak of 15 games, which began after the Ravens loss to the Steelers in 2010.

These three games will define the remainder of the Steelers 2012 season, regardless of whether they make the playoffs, or how far they go.

If the Steelers team from the first 2011 Ravens game, or the team from last week's game against the Chiefs show up Sunday night, that will indicate the team has lost heart. Every team facing them going forward will be smelling blood, and the Ravens will have no fear in their hearts, or doubts in their minds, when they take the field at the site of their latest super bowl victory in Week 13.

The Steelers face an unenviable task; they face without their franchise quarterback a bitter rival who claims a 7-2 record .

But this is a team sport, and the Steelers epitomize the concept of team. Head coach Mike Tomlin is the paragon of leadership, a coach who commands the respect of his players as no other, as was proven by Tomlin being selected as the number one coach for whom NFL players most want to play. The Steelers roster is filled with team oriented players like Willie Colon, Heath Miller, Ryan Clark, Brett Keisel; men who have made careers out of "One Team, One Goal".

This team is full of men who thrive on "Us versus Them", not ESPN highlights. Professionals who relish being counted out for the adrenaline rush that comes with defying the odds.

It is this team mentality, this banding together against adversity, this synergy of talents and personalities that makes the Steelers as a whole greater than the sum of its parts; even when one of the missing parts is Ben Roethlisberger. They did it in 2010 against all odds, and the learned opinions of the mainstream media. They can do it again this year.

Vegas bookies and the Ravens be warned: Odds are the true Pittsburgh Steelers are coming.

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