AFC North: 2011 Quick Takes

Quick Take: Jets at Steelers

January, 16, 2011
Three things to know about next Sunday's New York Jets-Pittsburgh Steelers AFC Championship Game:

1. The road to the Super Bowl now goes through Pittsburgh. The Steelers caught a break Sunday night with the Jets' upset win against the New England Patriots. Pittsburgh, the AFC's No. 2 seed, will play host to the conference title game for the second time in three years. The Steelers said Saturday night that they were confident regardless of the opponent. But playing at home in the postseason is always a preference, and the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady have had Pittsburgh's number in recent years.

2. Don't forget the Jets beat Pittsburgh too. While the Steelers avoided a trip to New England, the team with the best record in the regular season, they will face a Jets team that went into Heinz Field on Dec. 19 and handed Pittsburgh a 22-17 defeat. New York outplayed Pittsburgh in Week 15, particularly on special teams. The Steelers also were without Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu, who missed the game with a calf/Achilles injury.

3. There are tons of AFC North connections in this game. This will be a big week for Jets receiver Santonio Holmes, whom Pittsburgh traded this offseason to New York. Holmes will make his second trip to Pittsburgh this season, but this time a ticket to Super Bowl XLV is at stake. Jets coach Rex Ryan, linebacker Bart Scott and defensive lineman Trevor Pryce are among those who joined New York from the Baltimore Ravens' organization. Receiver Braylon Edwards was acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns, and the Browns traded their No. 5 overall pick to the Jets in 2009 to allow New York to draft quarterback Mark Sanchez. Jets safety Brodney Pool also played five seasons in Cleveland.

Quick Take: Ravens at Steelers

January, 9, 2011
Three things to know about Saturday's Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers divisional game:

1. It's time to settle the score. With similar records, there has been plenty of debate about which AFC North team is better this season, and Steelers-Ravens III will be the deciding factor. Both teams won on the road during the regular season. But Pittsburgh won the tiebreaker with a 5-1 division record, compared to Baltimore's 4-2 mark. That was the only way to separate these teams, which resulted in the Steelers getting a first-round bye and a home playoff game. But now it's time to settle it on the field and put this debate to rest. "I’ve lost to Ben Roethlisberger seven times,’’ Baltimore's Terrell Suggs said of the Steelers' QB. "He’s definitely my biggest problem I’m facing."

2. The Steelers are as healthy and well-rested as they've been in months. Pittsburgh ended the regular season with a lot of bumps and bruises to starters but took advantage of the bye week. Pro Bowlers Troy Polamalu (Achilles) and Maurkice Pouncey (stinger) were among the key starters banged up. Polamalu has played in only one game since Dec. 12, a 41-9 victory against the Cleveland Browns in the regular-season finale. Pittsburgh starting defensive end Aaron Smith, who had triceps surgery in October, also has a chance to return.

3. Lately, Baltimore's defense is playing at a Super Bowl level. In the past two games, the Ravens have forced an astounding 10 turnovers and held their opponents to 14 total points. Of those 10 turnovers, Baltimore has forced five fumbles and five interceptions. The Ravens are very hard to beat when their defense is this dominant. That also takes pressure off the Ravens' offense, which has been up and down this season.

Quick Take: Ravens at Chiefs

January, 2, 2011
Three things to know about next Sunday's Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs wild-card game:

1. Ravens catch a break: Baltimore (12-4) caught a huge break by avoiding the Indianapolis Colts in the wild-card round. A loss by the Chiefs (10-6) and a win by the Colts in Week 17 sent Baltimore to Kansas City. Although no playoff draw is easy, the Ravens are just 2-8 against Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, including last year's playoff loss in the divisional round. Now, Manning and the Colts are the New York Jets' problem. Kansas City is a team without a lot of playoff experience, and that could work in Baltimore's favor.

2. Baltimore's offense must step up: Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome spent the past offseason beefing up the offense to perform in big games. But at times, the offense this season has been a disappointment. Baltimore traded for receiver Anquan Boldin, signed free-agent receivers T. J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte' Stallworth and drafted two rookie tight ends. The goal was to put as many weapons around third-year quarterback Joe Flacco as possible and take pressure off the defense. On paper, the Ravens are one of the most well-rounded playoff teams with the ability to win in different ways. But Baltimore's offense must prove it can be productive and consistent in the playoffs.

3. Let the seeding debate begin: Should teams be awarded for having the better season or winning the division? Baltimore won two more games than Kansas City, but the Chiefs have home-field advantage. The Ravens have been mum on the subject recently, but that's probably a sign they're not ecstatic about the seeding system after having a tremendous season. Baltimore finished second in the AFC North via a tiebreaker to the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4), who have a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game. The Ravens are one of just four teams to finish with 12 wins in the NFL, but they probably will play their entire postseason on the road as the fifth seed.