Only the great rivalries get roman numerals added to the joining of their names to mark which round is about to begin.
Just two years removed from of one of the greatest playoff games ever, the combatants, fierce rivals, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, return to the scene of the crime to do it again, one round shy of where they were in January of 2009.
That was the second Steelers/Ravens III. The first one was in 2001, when the Steelers mopped the grass at Heinz Field with the Ravens' bloody carcasses.
So this is Steelers/Ravens III III.
Every match-up is intriguing. Each play in their last two games was hotly contested. Each time these teams strap on the pads, the sporting world stops, watches and witnesses the pinnacle of the NFL's product.
Work is secondary to the anticipation of this game. PZB is a lot more aggressive meandering through his cubicle jungle, looking to headbutt someone. Instead, that aggression is bottled up, waiting tensely for kickoff, surrounded by the Black and Gold Faithful of the Steeler Fans of Minnesota at Patrick McGovern's in St. Paul.
That's the audience PZB pictures when writing this column. What do they want to read about? The slaughter of the Browns feels so long ago, there really wasn't much to point out anymore. They just want to pass out the ammunition and brawl it out with their hated rival Ravens.
So let's get to it. Both sides have been here before, we all know what to expect. Even for a III-rd time.
Opponent Web Sites/Forums
Baltimore Sun writer Mike Preston says the Ravens "have better personnel" than the Steelers.
His opinion on Steelers CB Bryant McFadden is he "will get lit up several times on game day."
His report card on the 30-7 win over Kansas City certainly is flattering.
Bruce Raffel of Baltimore Beatdown writes about the Ravens enormous time of possession advantage over the Chiefs in the fourth quarter.
He also implies one of the games Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger did not play against Baltimore in the past was "by choice."
Former Browns coach Eric Mangini left little doubt in GM Mike Holmgren's mind after this one. A coaching change is yet again in order in Cleveland.
The most prolific deep passing combination in Steelers history, Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace, made sure of that.
On the first offensive play, Wallace caught a Roethlisberger pass after blowing past CB Joe Haden and being hopelessly trailed by SS T.J. Ward, taking it 56 yards for the touchdown.
It was the eighth touchdown from 40+ yards for the two, breaking the previous franchise high of seven, from Bubby Brister and Louis Lipps. They played together for six seasons. Roethlisberger and Wallace haven't even started together for two full seasons.
Just like their careers together, they were only just getting started. Wallace's second reception covered 41 yards, taking a quick slant down to Cleveland's 12-yard line. It was strange to see him get caught from behind, until one sees that he lost his shoe right after he caught the pass.
So he went 35 yards on Cleveland's defense with only one shoe. Had he kept it on, he and Roethlisberger would have nine touchdowns of 40 yards or more. It was that kind of season for Wallace, and for Cleveland.
Wallace finished the year with 1,257 yards on 60 catches, giving him 21 yards per catch to go along with 10 touchdowns.
Some may remember Santonio Holmes' 2009 campaign. He had 79 catches last year for 1,248 yards and six touchdowns, 15.8 yards per catch.
But Holmes has a Super Bowl MVP to his credit. Wallace can't play with any kind of individual award monkey on his back, but he looks to be the big play threat the Steelers have needed to defeat Baltimore, their AFC Divisional Round opponent, in the past.
Us Against The World
How utterly ridiculous is it that James Harrison makes a football act and gets fined $75,000, and Richard Seymour, despite whatever happened to provoke him, slugs a player on national TV in full view of the cameras and knocks him to the ground -- and gets fined $25,000. Weak. Very weak.
Even a casual reader can glance over the Baltimore Sun this week and see a clear and premeditated effort to stir up controversy for Steelers/Ravens III.
There's Terrell Suggs' shirt (more on him in a minute). There's the contrived effort to get Ray Lewis to admit he hates Pittsburgh. James Harrison and Hines Ward were both baited into answering similar questions by the Baltimore media.
PZB is lost on how exactly this is newsworthy, but the real level of disrespect is shown by ESPN, then channeled by the Sun.
Jamison Hensely blogs about a poll ESPN ran, asking fans to vote on which defense, Baltimore or Pittsburgh, is more intimidating. The results are a tad bit shocking.
According to Hensley (the poll was taken down by the time PZB clicked on it) 52 percent of voters felt Baltimore has the more intimidating defense.
Forcing five turnovers against the Chiefs is nice and all, but forgive me for not feeling chills of fear up my spine. This is a team that has rules put in place because of the hard-hitting nature of its players.
He who laughs last laughs longest. We're still laughing from 2008. What are you going to do about it?
You broke our quarterback's nose, and he went out and shredded you in the second half of the last game you played. Your quarterback folded like a lawn chair as the game went on. Toughness can be measured in one's ability to stand up and fight when the pressure is at its highest.
Your defense isn't tough enough to rattle our QB. It'd be wise of you to think success against Matt Cassel does not equal success against Ben Roethlisberger. I shudder to think what our defense will do to you.
Opponent Spotlight: OLB Terrell Suggs
Suggs dominated the Steelers' offensive line so much in their last meeting, it looked as if Roethlisberger was wearing a Ravens No. 55 jersey. Right up to the very end, where Suggs climbed all over Roethlisberger before he was able to flip a pass out of bounds, Suggs' relentless pressure sucked the air out of the Steelers' offensive lungs.
It had to be one of the best, if not the best, individual defensive performances of the season. No other Ravens player had a particularly big night. Suggs was worth five forced punts on his own.
Various different Ravens players have had their share of the notoriety over the years; you can't flip on the internet and not see something about Ray Lewis. Haloti Ngata has reached the point where everyone talks about how underrated he is, to the point where he's overrated. Ed Reed managed to lead the league in interceptions despite only having played in 10 games. Suggs has stood out this season as their best defensive player, likely earning an All-Pro selection after an 11-sack season.
With all due respect to Steelers LT Jonathan Scott, he's not going to block Suggs on his own. The Steelers will employ an scheme utilizing a tight end - either Heath Miller or Matt Spaeth - along with a halfback or fullback to chip off Suggs, giving Scott some help. It wouldn't be surprising to see them run the ball at Suggs early in the game to see how he commits to it. A well-timed screen or delayed run that catches Suggs upfield could help slow him down.
These games are methodical, and the Steelers have oftentimes in the past chipped away at the Ravens defense, looking to set up a big play. There are plenty of bigtime playmakers on the Steelers offense, and they have excellent matchups with their receivers vs. the Ravens secondary. Getting them the ball will be tricky with a tough front seven from Baltimore, but playing right at Suggs and forcing him to either abandon his flats responsibility and rush the passer, or keep him in coverage to set up a deeper pass could work.
Steelers Spotlight: OLB James Harrison
In games like this, veteran savvy sits front row center. In Harrison's case, his experience will sit just slightly lower on his shoulder than the enormous chip he has permanently planted there.
In a typically physical game, Harrison is the most physical. The biggest, baddest bully will line up across from LT Michael Oher, who struggled considerably with another elite OLB, Kansas City's Tamba Hali, in the Wild Card round.
In an otherwise superb game for the Ravens offensive line, Oher looked both sloppy and injured, allowing Hali to rack up two sacks and five pressures. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, their lack of playoff experience shined brightly on the offensive side of the ball, because their defense played pretty well, but were overwhelmed by the end of the game.
Hali was a big part a good defensive first half, which is to say, Oher was a big part of it.
Harrison will come after Flacco land, air and sea, considering the three penalties Harrison forced Oher into in Week 13. The Ravens bring out the conservatism in defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, as he attacks mostly from his base defense. Even when the Steelers put their nickel package on the field, they can still get pressure from Harrison, and the Ravens will throw the ball 35+ times in this game.
A comfortable Joe Flacco is a dangerous Joe Flacco, and the main reason why there have been times his discomfort was put on display was because of Oher. PZB called him out before the Week 13 game for what appeared to be a lack of conditioning late in the game. Harrison wore him down all game, and it doesn't appear that philosophy will be any different, certainly not in a game that typically comes down to the final minutes.
A relentless but well-timed pass rush from Harrison off the edge could very easily be the difference between the winner and the loser.
I See You
I see you, Troy Polamalu. Everyone sees you, it'd be impossible not to. There are stretches of games where you don't look human.
The times you do, it's because your all-out, physical style of play leads to injuries. The unfortunate price you must pay to be the dynamic, other-worldly player that you are.
I see you, though, because you can come back, after two weeks of no action, and make a ridiculous diving interception on the third play of the game. You have the ability to make plays that push our eyes out of our heads, and make us yell unintelligible statements as loud as we can, because we cannot find the words to express our amazement anymore.
We're glad to see you're getting some rest this week, and that you'll be able to play. With you out there, it's only a matter of time until you're going to do something, and everyone knows it.
You're going to finally be rewarded for that with your first Defensive Player of the Year award, which should be given to you shortly. We'd be amazed if you didn't get it. Not as amazed as the plays you make, and your ability to continue answering the bell game in and game out, though.
The bedlam you cause on the field only pales slightly in comparison to what you do to your fan base. Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch's run last week apparently caused a small earthquake in Seattle, but your touchdown against Baltimore in the AFC Championship game sent shockwaves of its own through Heinz Field.
- Ravens QB Joe Flacco has never beaten the Steelers when Roethlisberger starts (0-5)
- Pittsburgh allowed 62.8 yards per game on the ground, a franchise record, in 2010
- Steelers WR Mike Wallace has 14 catches and 311 yards (22.2 yards per catch) in his last three games
- The Steelers are tied with Dallas for the most conference championship appearances in the NFL (14)
Begging, you guys: To all league and Union officials, please do not let this be the last Steelers/Ravens game for longer than nine months. This product is too hot for you to not sell it. Don't damper this, or any of the other fantastic rivalries in this great game. Come to an agreement, sign it and let us continue to watch the NFL.