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01-14-2011, 09:09 PM
Divisional round real and spectacular picks
Cold, Hard Football Facts for January 14, 2011
http://www.coldhardfootballfacts.com/Articles/11_3612_Divisional_round_real_and_spectacular_pick s.html

We kicked off the 2010-11 playoffs with a sharp 3-1 mark against the spread during the wildcard round, though with a humble 2-2 record straight up. Hey, nobody else saw Seattle’s upset over New Orleans coming, either. And we should have learned long ago that Peyton Manning in the playoffs is the worst bet in sports. Love to get one that back.

But, hey, we’re still on the plus-side of the ledger once again. And, with just two weekends of football before the Super Bowl, we haven’t suffered the bitter sting of a losing week ATS since Halloween.

On to the divisional round …

Baltimore at Pittsburgh (-3.5)
(See both teams sized up across the board in 17 different indicators right here!)http://www.coldhardfootballfacts.com/Articles/11_3613_Divisional_round%3A_4_games%2C_8_teams%2C_ 136_Quality_Stats!.html

These bitter AFC North rivals split two hard-fought and physical regular-season games, both of which were decided by three points in the final minutes. Each team claimed a win on the other’s home field.

The last time these two played in December, Ben Roethlisberger’s nose was bent like a crowbar (see picture below) and Ray Lewis said afterward that he hadn’t seen that much bloodshed since his last night out on the town.

OK, we made up that last part.

Baltimore’s win at Pittsburgh back in early October counts in the standing, of course, but should be marked with an asterisk: Roethlisberger was still serving his four-game suspension and Charlie Batch was the Steelers’ QB that day.

But no matter who's at quarterback, these teams are evenly matched and we’re expecting another bloody slugfest in Saturday’s rubber match.

The teams are virtually dead even when it comes to efficiency: Pittsburgh is No. 2 in Bendability and Baltimore is No. 3; but the Ravens are No. 9 in Scoreability and the Steelers are No. 10. And, not surprisingly, these teams boast two of the toughest and stingiest pass defenses in the NFL. The Steelers finished No. 2 in Defensive Passer Rating; the Ravens finished at No. 5.

But here’s the big difference between the two clubs:

Pittsburgh’s No. 1-ranked Defensive Hogs should dominate Baltimore’s No. 22-ranked Offensive Hogs. They Ravens like to run the ball: only five teams rushed more than Baltimore’s 487 attempts in 2010. But the truth is that the Ravens don’t run it very well. Baltimore averaged just 3.76 YPA this season. Only four teams were worse.

The Ravens have already proved in two games that they couldn’t run the ball against Pittsburgh’s league-best run defense (3.01 YPA). Baltimore totaled 47 rush attempts for just 113 yards, 2.4 YPA, and 1 TD.

Pittsburgh, for its part, was a bit more productive on the ground, but not much: 51 attempts, 138 yards, 2.7 YPA and 2 TD. (Thanks Airhead. :banging: - mesa)

So expect Baltimore to be one-dimensional on offense. And without a run game, they’ll be forced to put all their hopes on the brawny shoulders of Big Joe Flacco.

But we’re not sure that Give it to Joe is a winning formula. After all, Baltimore is not particularly adept at protecting the passer (9.42% Negative Pass Plays, 18th) while Pittsburgh is one of the best at forcing Negative Pass Plays (10.47%, seventh).

So Big Joe, without a run game, might find himself under Big Pressure – especially if Pittsburgh’s game-changing safety Troy Polamalu is back on the field and in top form. He has not practiced all week.

As usual, the quarterback matchup will likely be the determining factor, and the Steelers get the checkmark there.

Roethlisberger is 8-2 in his postseason career, has two Super Bowl rings, and carries an 87.2 career playoff passer rating into this game. Flacco, on the other hand, is 4-2 in the postseason, but has just a 61.7 career passer rating in the playoffs and has thrown six INTs and just three TDs in his playoff starts.

Flacco, to his credit, is coming off his best postseason performance last week at Kansas City (115.4 rating). But the Pittsburgh defense he’ll face Saturday is a much better unit (73.8 Defensive Passer Rating).

If the Ravens can’t run the ball effectively – and every indicator says that they can’t – everything is going to fall on Flacco’s shoulders, and we’re not sure he’s up to the task at this point in his career.

Big Ben, however, has proven he can get it done in the biggest games. In fact, the last time we saw Roethlisberger in the postseason, he was leading one of the greatest drives in Super Bowl history.

We’re expecting another tight battle in this one, but we feel that the home field, their superior Defensive Hogs and their edge at quarterback combine to give the Steelers the upper hand and an inside track to the AFC title game next week.

Pittsburgh 21, Baltimore 17

Note rest of the article is not about the Steelers. - mesa