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Steelers-Ravens ready for Round 3 in NFL playoffs

January 1, 2015

The nastiest rivalry in the NFL resumes on Saturday in Pittsburgh where the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens meet in the first round of the playoffs.

The Ravens have experienced nothing but agony at Heinz Field during the postseason, losing all three playoff games there in 2002, 2009 and 2011.

And now, here we go again.

“We’d like to win one, one of these days,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

Pittsburgh and Baltimore have already played twice this season, with each AFC North team winning by 20 points at home. Including the playoffs, the Steelers lead the series 24-17.

“We love this rivalry, we love being a part of it,” Harbaugh said, “and I believe they feel the same way.”

Memories of Hines Ward jawing at the Ravens, Terrell Suggs yelling at the Steelers, and Jacoby Jones skipping past Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on the sideline are some of the highlights of the Steelers-Ravens rivalry. Mostly, the rivalry is about hard hits, helmet-jarring tackles, and bloody noses.

Asked what stands out most, Harbaugh replied, “The physicality, first of all, and the intensity. Every play, whether it’s a playoff game or not, is played at that level.”

The Steelers could be without running back Le’Veon Bell, who hyperextended his right knee last weekend. That isn’t necessarily a big edge for the Ravens, as good as Bell has been. Pittsburgh won the last meeting even with Bell being limited to 20 yards on 10 carries, and Baltimore struggles in pass coverage.

If Bell is unable to go, it puts more pressure on the offensive line to give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger time to throw to league-leading receiver Antonio Brown and rookie Martavis Bryant.

Baltimore’s defense finished with 49 sacks, second most in the league, and its front seven will be bolstered by the return of nose tackle Haloti Ngata, who sat out the last four games after violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

Also on Saturday, the Carolina Panthers, who won the NFC South with a losing record, will welcome the reeling Arizona Cardinals.

Only Seattle in 2010 won a division with a losing record before the Panthers did. Carolina can take encouragement from the fact Seattle then won a wild-card playoff.

The Panthers have won four in a row to become the first repeat division champion in the South. They averaged 199.3 yards rushing per game in December and found balanced offense with quarterback Cam Newton and two 1,000-yard receivers: Tight end Greg Olsen and rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.

Arizona was the talk of the NFL until injuries struck pretty much everywhere. The Cardinals went from a 9-1 record to a wild card, and have third-stringer Ryan Lindley at quarterback. Their defense, also undermanned, will need a huge game.

On Sunday, Detroit is at Dallas, and Cincinnati goes to Indianapolis. Division champions New England, Denver, Seattle and Green Bay have byes.

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