Saturday, December 26, 2009

Gameday 15: Baltimore Ravens

With Tennessee losing to San Diego on Thursday night, there are now 7 teams in the hunt for the final two wild card positions. Tennessee's loss eliminated them from the playoff picture and dropped the Steelers to 11th in the conference because of the way the tiebreakers work. But that doesn't matter. First and foremost, the Steelers need to take care of business.

The Ravens need a win to get into the playoffs. Baltimore is still in the hunt for the division title, which they can only win by winning out and Cincinnati losing twice. If you don't think they'll be fired up, you've been living under a rock. To say this is the biggest game of the season for the Steelers is an understatement. This is a win-or-go-home game against our biggest rivals.

Both teams are going to try to run the ball, but don't be shocked if the game divulges into a shootout. The Steelers offense is determined to score, and Bruce Arians is trying to save his job.

It's not like Balitmore is an entirely healthy team either. Ed Reed is likely out with a groin injury. Chris Carr and Dominique Foxworth will likely be the starting corners for the Ravens. Baltimore also picked up Corey Ivy this week. You may remember that the Steelers picked up Ivy before the game in Baltimore. This is the second player this year (Arnold Harrison the other) to play on both sides of a division rivalry game. You may remember Corey Ivy from the burn wounds Nate Washington left on him in 2007 when the Steelers torched Baltimore 35-7.

On the Steelers front, Troy is out. Chris Kemoeatu is out, giving Ramon Foster his second consecutive start. James Harrison is a game-time decision with a biceps injury he incurred this week in practice. Hines, Wallace, Parker, and Mendenhall are all probable.

If you think Hines isn't going to play in this game because he's a little dinged up, you're further out to sea than the Titanic.

Looking into the Crystal Ball (or at the scoreboard) won't do us much good if we don't wind up with more points than Baltimore tomorrow (because according to John Madden, that means there's a good chance we'll win). However, we can't get to the playoffs all on our own. So eyes across Steelers Nation will invariably be glancing at the scores from other games.

Here's what we're looking at:

Jacksonville (7-7) @ New England (9-5)
New England hasn't lost at home all year and needs a win to clinch the AFC East division. The Steelers need the Jaguars to lose in order to have a hope in the playoffs, and with the Jaguars travelling to Cleveland in Week 17, we need the Patriots to step up and finish off the Jags and not have our playoff hopes rest on the Browns.

Houston (7-7) @ Miami (7-7)
This is an elimination game for both teams. If either of them lose, they are out of the playoff race. Houston hosts New England next week and Miami hosts the Steelers. Both teams need a win this week in order to have a chance to get into the playoffs next week. Miami holds a tiebreaker over New England, and could actually still win the AFC East if New England loses their last two games. The best case scenario for the Steelers here would be for Miami to beat Houston and knock them out of the playoffs and set up a win-and-get-in game against the Steelers next week.

NY Jets (7-7) @ Indianapolis (14-0)
The Jets travel to Indy to face the unbeaten Colts then finish off their season hosting Cincinnati. The Jets need to win out to get in. Indy already has everything wrapped up in the AFC, and the variable here is just how much Indy's starters are going to play. Hopefully, for all parties involved, Indy breaks out a huge lead early and is able to rest their starters while still winning the game and knocking the Jets out of the playoff hunt.

Denver (8-6) @ Philadelphia (10-4)
Denver is reeling after losing to Oakland. Their loss is the only reason that so many teams still have a hope and a prayer of making the playoffs. Our head-to-head tiebreaker over Denver is keeping our playoff hopes afloat. If Denver loses here, all bets are off when they take a 3-game losing streak into their season finale against Kansas City. The Steelers only need Denver to lose once, and the best-case scenario would be for the Eagles to air it out against Denver's aging secondary and blow the Broncos out of the water.

Have things looked bleaker before? Most definitely. Do the Steelers need a lot of help to get in? Absolutely. Is it impossible? Absolutely not. All we need is for all the home teams to win tomorrow, starting in Heinz Field.

With the season on the line, there's only one person who we want with his hands on the ball.

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