The AFC wild-card playoffs didn't play out the best way for the Steelers on Saturday and Sunday.
In fact, it was probably the worst-case scenario for them.
The Steelers must face the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC divisional round this coming Saturday with a spot in the AFC Championship Game on the line. Of the three possible opponents for the Steelers the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs and Ravens Baltimore was the one the Steelers most likely didn't want to play.
The Steelers would have been considered a bigger favorite against the Colts or Chiefs due to the Colts' sub-par season and the Chiefs' lack of playoff experience. The Ravens, though, have a history of being extremely competitive with the Steelers.
The last four Steelers-Ravens meetings have produced a margin of victory of three points with each team winning two of the four. The Steelers also nipped the Ravens by three and four points in the 2008 regular season.
It is also a matchup of the same teams that met in the AFC Championship Game two years ago with the Steelers winning, 23-14. The Ravens' core group is still together from that team, which also went into New England in the playoffs last year and upset the Patriots.
The Ravens are playoff tested on the road and may have been the team with the best chance to knock off the Patriots in the playoffs this year. Instead of the Patriots getting the Ravens in the divisional round, they get the New York Jets, a team they beat by 42 points last month.
The Steelers are still favored to beat the Ravens Ben Roethlisberger is 8-2 all-time against them, while Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is 2-5 against the Steelers. But expect the game to be close.
Earlier this season, the Steelers were heading toward a 4-0 start to their season without Roethlisberger when they led the Ravens, 14-10, late in the game at Heinz Field. However, they couldn't get a key first down, had a costly penalty on the ensuing punt and allowed the Ravens to march 40 yards for the game-winning score.
Later in Baltimore, Pittsburgh trailed 10-6 late in the game, but Troy Polamalu blitzed and stripped Flacco of the ball. The Steelers recovered, scored a touchdown on third-and-goal from the 9-yard line and then stopped the Ravens' final drive.
No one will be surprised if Saturday's game ends in a similar fashion, with the game not being decided until the final minute. The new NFL overtime playoff rules may get their first exposure, too.
The Steelers are not going to get any easy matchups in the AFC playoffs. The four best teams in the AFC and maybe all of football are still alive, unlike the NFC where an 8-9 team is still playing.
But that's the way it should be. At this stage, it is not supposed to be easy.
If the Steelers are going to be playing in Arlington, Texas, on Feb. 6, this much is certain: They will have earned it.
Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or firstname.lastname@example.org.