The Steelers have their hands full this Sunday. The Ravens offense may not make your heart beat faster, but they are back to playing the same kind of football that carried them to the Super Bowl title last year.
They are an impressive bunch, and the Ravens' win over Miami yesterday may be their most dominant performance in their two-year reign of terror. This is a special team with special athletes who turn it up a notch at crunch time.
Jaguars fans tend to look down their nose at the Ravens, the result of four wins over the Jaguars the past two seasons that were anything but dominant. But what do you say about a team that rallied to win after facing fourth-quarter deficits in three of those games?
Sixth seed? No way. When they play as they did against the Dolphins, the Ravens are still one of the NFL's elite teams.
Finishing with the AFC's top seed is no bargain for the Steelers. Baltimore is a team that has already won in Pittsburgh this season, is 2-0 in its last two trips to Pittsburgh, and matches up well against a Steelers team that plays a style of football identical to what the Ravens want to play. This Sunday's playoff game at Heinz Field should be the feature attraction of the weekend, after a weekend of wild-card games that were somewhat disappointing.
It's a pressure game for both teams. The Steelers are facing the pressure their top-seeded position poses. The Ravens know this could be their final season in their window of opportunity, because age and salary-cap issues will do much to unravel the Ravens before next season kicks off.
The eight teams remaining in the playoffs offer one of the best division-round playoff fields in recent history. Oakland appears to have regained some of the bounce in its step, while New England remains that mystery team that has won six in a row, eight of their last nine and 10 of their last 12.
In the NFC, Chicago is that Patriots-like Cinderella team, while Philadelphia and Green Bay are legitimate postseason threats to St. Louis' dominance.
Parity is said to have robbed the NFL of its quality, but you wouldn't know that based on the remaining playoffs crop. Even though the Ravens had to win their regular-season finale just to make the playoffs, they left little doubt Sunday as to their quality.