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Ravens-Steelers playoff primer

How do you measure Saturday's divisional playoff game between the Ravens and Steelers?

Will it be a bridge to the AFC championship game and a date with Bill Belichick's Patriots in New England? Or will it be the end of an era for two of the greatest Ravens ever to appear at M&T Bank Stadium?

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The latter, of course, is a worst-case scenario because if the Ravens lose, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed will face an uncertain future for 2011 and beyond. The collective bargaining agreement is up and the owners want blood and givebacks. Negotiations are virtually non-existent. A lockout looms – indeed, it may be inevitable for the owners to regain control of the league.

So that leaves Lewis and Reed, two of the best defensive players ever to play in the NFL, wanting to capitalize on this shot at a Super Bowl – Ray's second, Ed's first – because the future is so murky. Who knows if there will be a season in 2011, despite commissioner Roger Goodell's assurances? Who knows what a forced year off would do to those two future Hall-of-Fame players?

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Lewis is 35 now, slowing down but still a force. Reed is 32, playing through personal pain and injury. Reed is more likely to leave willingly. Lewis might be the equivalent of Brett Favre in more ways than one. He may have to have his uniform torn off before leaving. It would be a sad day on all accounts.

Lewis and Reed have it in them to make this run at the Super Bowl, but if they fall short and if there is a lengthy lockout, they may never get another chance. It is enough, then, to contemplate what they've meant to Ravens football, to Baltimore football.

And hope that this isn't the end.

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