Taking sides

The Baltimore Sun

Give Pittsburgh the nod tonight by the slimmest of margins, say two former players who suited up for both the Ravens and Steelers.

Baltimore will fall, 9-6, said Rod Woodson, an 11-time Pro Bowl selection who starred for both clubs at defensive back.

The AFC title game might be even closer than that, Kordell Stewart surmised.

"I pick Pittsburgh by no more than three points," said Stewart, the onetime quarterback.

Both men gave their answers hard thought. Woodson, 43, is an analyst on the NFL Network; Stewart, 36, does the same for ESPN.

"So much about these teams is the same," said Woodson, who helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl after the 2000 season. "You've got two clubs whose staple is to run the football, throw it efficiently and play solid defense.

"They are mirror images. Maybe they don't like each other because they see so much of themselves in their opponent. Sometimes, when you look in the mirror, you don't like what's looking back."

Dissecting the teams, Woodson said, there's little to choose from.

"The two defenses are a wash. The coaches are a wash," Woodson said. "Special teams are a wash if the Ravens let Ed Reed return a punt now and then. I don't know if either team can really run against the other's defense, so now it comes down to which quarterback can make the play in stretch time.

"[Ravens rookie] Joe Flacco is an even-keeled guy who doesn't get rattled. The players love him, but you don't know what Joe can give you week after week after week."

Advantage: Pittsburgh.

"You've got to lean toward Ben [Roethlisberger] because he has done this before," Woodson said.

Intangibles could give the Steelers an edge, said Stewart, Pittsburgh's Most Valuable Player in the 2001 season, when he led his team past the Ravens in the divisional playoffs.

"The Ravens have every chance in the world to win, but I've got to go with the black and gold," Stewart said. "Both teams have a methodical, don't-screw-it-up offense, a great defense and a tough, hard-nosed identity.

"The difference is the Steelers have had that mentality since 1933. They go to bed and wake up with it. This is who they are, their heritage, their way of life. No disrespect to the Ravens, but if you take Ray Lewis out of the defense, what have you got? The Steelers have that toughness, that passion to the core."

Pittsburgh's fans might tip the scales, Stewart said.

"Out there, football is church. This world is put together with steel. The fans love that blue-collar team down to the marrow of their bones," he said.

"It's like rooting for Notre Dame. It's love that you can't add up."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad