It's Curtains For Steelers' Remaining Foes - KTEN.com - No One Gets You Closer

It's Curtains For Steelers' Remaining Foes

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Is there anybody left standing who can beat the Steelers?

It says here there isn't, at least not if Pittsburgh plays at the level it did against San Diego on Sunday.

The Ravens can make it a game, but they can't beat the Pittsburgh team that laid waste to San Diego. And while the Eagles did beat the Steelers way back in Week 4, they're not going to beat that team we saw Sunday. As for the Cardinals - well, as good as they've been, they spent 61 years earning the underdog-for-life tag, and even getting to the Super Bowl isn't going to erase it.

We know about the Steeler defense, the best in the NFL this year. It had to be that good, too, because for most of the year, Pittsburgh was a barely functioning team on offense. On Sunday, that defense gave up just 10 points through three quarters. It surrendered two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but the game was already wrapped up by then. When it mattered, the Steel Curtain was as impenetrable as ever.

So we know that nobody is going to score much against this team, and that goes double for the Ravens, who score points as regularly as Keith Olbermann compliments Sarah Palin. In two losses to Pittsburgh during the regular season, the Ravens scored 29 points. The Steelers scored just seven more than that, but that was all they needed.

Of the two potential Super Bowl opponents, the Eagles beat the Steelers by a 15-9 score. Pittsburgh and Arizona did not play this year.

What makes the Steelers the favorite to win it all now are that defense plus two factors that have come together late in the season: Ben Roethlisberger playing his best football of the season and a healthy Willie Parker.

Of those two factors, Parker is the most important. Pittsburgh has always had to run the ball to win ballgames, and this year Parker missed eight games and was hurt just about the entire season. He was finally healthy for the Chargers on Sunday, and just like that the Steelers had a running game.

Parker pounded out 146 yards on the ground. That's 43 percent of the 342 total yards the Steelers gained against San Diego. He was particularly effective in the second half, when Pittsburgh had finally worn down the Charger defense. With Parker healthy and Big Ben throwing as he did Sunday, the Steelers are going to be awfully hard to beat.

Nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs, as every top seed could tell you. And predictions are like opinions are like noses - everybody has one. But of all the teams left, the one that looks the least beatable is Pittsburgh.

That said, Pittsburgh-Baltimore is going to be a game to warm the bloodthirsty hearts of fans of old-time, three-yards-and-a-slick-of-slobber football. The two teams have as much affection for each other as Hamas and Israel. They know each other as well as any two teams do, and they know better than any of us just how brutal the AFC Championship game is going to be.

There aren't many statements that have held true through just two weeks of playoffs. We said the Cardinals can't beat anybody. Then we said they can't win on the road. We said the Giants couldn't lose at home and that Eli Manning would not forget how to play quarterback. We said that the 8-8 Chargers couldn't beat anybody.

But here's one that you could have etched in titanium two months ago: Nobody wants to play the Ravens. That's as true in Pittsburgh as it is anywhere in the league.

Baltimore doesn't scare anybody with its offense. The Ravens failed to crack 300 total yards in either of their two playoff wins, and on Saturday against the Titans, Baltimore gained just 211 yards and made just nine first downs. Tennessee nearly doubled that on Saturday, piling up 391 yards. Tennessee's problem wasn't moving the ball, it was hanging on to it.

Baltimore intercepted Kerry Collins once and forced five fumbles, recovering two. The Ravens didn't turn the ball over themselves and didn't allow quarterback Joe Flacco to be sacked. That's how they play the game - let the other guys make the mistakes and take advantage of them when they do.

A week earlier against Miami, the Ravens intercepted Chad Pennington four times and recovered one Dolphin fumble while turning it over just once themselves. Again, Flacco wasn't sacked once, but Pennington went down three times.

The Ravens will commit penalties; they had eight against the Titans and seven against Miami. But they don't make a lot of mistakes handling the ball.

The reason I think they'll lose is their offense. Flacco is a rookie, and no rookie had ever won two playoff games before he came along. It's not likely he'll win three.

Flacco reminds you of Roethlisberger when he led the Steelers to a 15-1 regular-season record as a rookie and then to a Super Bowl win as a sophomore. He's big and strong and his team doesn't ask him to do much. But when the call comes, he answers.

His problem is going to be that he's going to be asked to do more than he can. Pittsburgh, like Baltimore, doesn't turn it over often. Both teams play it tight, and in those kinds of games, the experienced quarterback - and the better running back - are going to make the difference.

So until further notice, the Steelers are the team to beat, in the AFC Championship Game and in the Super Bowl.

(Mike Celizic is a contributor to NBCSports.com and a freelance writer based in New York.)