The Ravens are an alluring pick, but they have fatal flaws.
Baltimore at Pittsburgh (-6, 34)
Wow. What a game this should be. I will give the Ravens props here; they are a scary team to face when they are healthy. A power running game combined with a sick D will get you very far in the NFL, and it has for Baltimore this year. But alas, even good teams must fail. And Sunday is the day they do. Here’s why:
1. Suggs can't rush or tackle with one shoulder. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed get all the press on this D, but Suggs is a big reason Reed gets picks and Lewis gets tackles. Suggs has been a force since he joined the Ravens and I can guarantee without his pressure, Big Ben is going to have some extra time to pick apart the Ravens secondary. Without hurried throws, Ed Reed can’t make the big plays everyone has been lauding him for all year.
2. No real bye week finally bites the Ravens in the ass. After the weird Week 2 emergency bye week, the Ravens have played football every week. By my count that’s 17 weeks in a row with Sunday being the 18th game. At some point all the little aches and pains that don’t get put on the injury report combine with fatigue to create big injuries during the game. That’s why you saw the Ravens dropping like flies in the second half last week. These guys are gladiators, but not supermen.
The Steelers almost have this puzzle figured out.
3. No Rolle means Big Ben rolls. I am not scared of Fabian Washington and Frank Walker. And I don’t think Ben or Hines Ward is either, even if Walker is in a spitting mood. I’ve got to say, I’ve never heard of the guys who are going to be coming off the bench for nickel and dime packages for the Ravens, but if they were any good, they would’ve beaten out Walker or Washington to start. This really is Bruce Arians dream, he’s been running the spread offense all year and finally he’s got a great shot to destroy a secondary with it. I just hope he doesn’t go overboard and rely on it.
The saddest fan prop ever.
4. Rookie-ness will get to Flacco. When Big Ben steered the Steelers to a near undefeated season in 2004, I thought he was the second coming of Christ. Anything was possible. Big Ben, curing cancer and saving babies from wells, would become the greatest QB in the history of the game (he still is). Then the stink-bomb of the AFC Championship game against the Patriots brought my expectations back down to earth. In sifting through the wreckage of that season, a very interesting thing occurred to me (and a bunch of other people and sportswriters to be fair): When was the last time Ben had a day off? It’s an interesting question that really only affects rookies, and especially QBs. From the moment your senior year begins in college, you are constantly working. Not only do you have to lead your college team, you are trying to look good for NFL scouts. Say you go to a smaller school (U of Miami or Delaware perhaps), once the season ends, you have to work harder than the guys from USC, Oklahoma or Florida to get your name out there and raise your draft stock. Working out, interviews, studying pro systems, there’s no let-down from season to preparing for the draft. Once you are drafted, you study your teams system and start preparing for mini-camp and training camp. It’s a constant grind and it eventually wears people down mentally and physically. At some point Flacco will break down and make, if not a huge mistake, then a large one, probably induced by a large black man with a black jersey on running toward him with murderous intent.
5. Both teams are closers, but the Steelers are better at it. Like I said last week, the Steelers win close games. That’s what they’ve done this year behind the best 4th quarter QB since Elway. 7 wins you games if they are close. The Ravens are 2-3 in games decided by 7pts or less, better than the Chargers, but still nowhere near the 6-2 record Pittsburgh sports. This game is going to be a close one. I don’t believe anyone who tells me there’s a blowout happening. I’m just happy we’ve got a team built to win close games, with two of the best possession receivers in the game (Ward and Heath Miller), a tandem of backs that can get first downs when needed (Mewelde Moore and Gary Russell) and a D that wont let teams gain a time of possession advantage through the running game or give up big drives in key spots.
Ill give you a hint boys, the victim was the 2008 Baltimore Ravens. Your primary suspects live in western Pennsylvania.
Some may say that the Steelers will only win this game because the Ravens are so dinged up. Those people are idiots. The Steelers have put together a team that is the best in the AFC (fuck the Titans) and it will be fitting that Pittsburgh will be its representative in the Super Bowl. Godspeed ye men in black and gold. 17-13, Steelers go for #6.
Philadelphia at Arizona(+4, 47)
I have to tell you. This one is eluding me. I hear both sides making great cases for their teams. Ordinarily, I'd say, “Its gonna be close” and pick a winner. But I don’t think it will be close. One of these teams is gonna hit the hard wall of fate here and get slapped around. And to hear that Brian Westbrooks knee still looks like a grapefruit doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in the Eagles. Besides, if theres one thing Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb do well, its lose NFC Championship games. Kurt Warner puts another Super Bowl trip on his debit card with God, 31-10.