The nastiest rivalry in the NFL resumes on Saturday when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens meet in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday.
The Ravens have experienced nothing but agony at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field during the postseason, losing all three playoff games there in 2002, 2009 and 2011.
“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, and won the division this year.
“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. .
The Steelers could be without running back Le’Veon Bell, who hyperextended his right knee last weekend.
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.
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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.
Cowboys ride back into town
On Sunday the Dallas Cowboys return to the NFL playoffs after a four-year absence, seeking to get on their way to a first Super Bowl appearance since their victory in 1995.
‘America’s team’ ended the regular season with four straight wins, including emphatic victories in the last two – a 42-7 rout of the Indianapolis Colts and a 44-17 cruise against the Washington Redskins.
They host the Detroit Lions in the final game of the wildcard weekend, after the Cincinnati Bengals visit the Indianapolis Colts. The action on Saturday starts with the Arizona Cardinals, hoping to advance to the Super Bowl which will be played at their own stadium, up against the NFC South champion Carolina Panthers, who enter the playoffs despite a losing 7-8 record.
Dallas quarterback Tony Romo has enjoyed a career-best season with 34 touchdowns, just nine interceptions and 3,705 passing yards.
“His decision-making has been excellent,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett told USA Today.
“I think we have done a really good job with the environment around him. Obviously we are significantly better than we have been up front, running the ball better than we have in a long time and he has benefited from that.
“But there is no question in my mind he has orchestrated the whole thing. His leadership of the offensive unit has been outstanding.”
The other two outstanding players for Dallas this year have been running back DeMarco Murray, who broke Emmitt Smith’s single season franchise record with 1,845 yards, and receiver Dez Bryant, who enjoyed a Cowboys record of 16 touchdowns.
The Lions faced the prospect of being without key defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, suspended a game for treading on the leg of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers before the Lions had that ban overturned on appeal.
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford has two excellent receivers in Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson.
‘Megatron’ Johnson had 14 catches for 329 yards, the second best performance by a receiver in NFL history, when the teams last met – the Lions winning 31-30 in 2013.