Eisenberg: Odds of Winning Better Than Last Year

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But they had issues – a passing game lacking pop, a secondary that could be exploited, an injured quarterback – and the Colts exposed them as pretenders, winning easily.

A year later, the Ravens find themselves in the same position, having to go on the road to play a top challenger in the second round – the second-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers this time. But their situation is decidedly different this season. They aren't pretenders. They have a serious shot at winning this game and, well, a few more.

I'm not saying they're going to; I'm saying they're really in the Super Bowl ballpark this year, overmatched against no one. It's a rare opportunity.

The game with the Steelers is a complete jump ball, despite what the teams' seedings suggest. They had identical records during the regular season and have already played a pair of three-point games that swung in the final minutes.

The Ravens won't be the least bit cowed Saturday. Approaching their eighth game in 28 months with their rivals, they're viewing the Steelers more as the brother who shares their bedroom and loves to wrestle. The two are more alike than not, understand each other entirely, and have even developed a respectful affinity because they know the other side can take a punch. But darn if they want that other side to get more attention.

When Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh, who knows a thing about brotherly competition, said Monday he was glad the Ravens had broken Ben Roethlisberger's nose last month, all the scene was missing was a dad to send him to his room. Don't talk about your brother that way!

Anyway, the point is the Ravens aren't venturing into a low-odds situation, as they were a year ago in this round. They're on a five-game winning streak, they've already won in Pittsburgh this season, they have better personnel this year, and one could argue they're due to beat Roethlisberger after seven straight losses.

"It will probably come down to the final drive, like it always does," Ravens receiver Derrick Mason said. Hard to argue. And Roethlisberger has a knack for pulling such games out.

But the Ravens are highly motivated after an excruciating December defeat that "left a bad taste in our mouths," safety Dawan Landry said. They're also confident, truly believing they're the better team. We'll see.

If they survive Heinz Field, they would likely head to New England's Gillette Stadium. (The Jets don't have enough offense to win the AFC's other semifinal.) The top-seeded Patriots would be favored, but the Ravens would have more than a puncher's chance. They've won one game and left two on the table at Gillette in the past 16 months. They won't be intimidated. They have a better defense than the Patriots and better offensive personnel other than at quarterback.

But of course, the Patriots do have Tom Brady, a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback enjoying one of his finest seasons. The Super Bowl goes through him this year. Any team that wants to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy would have to beat him. Good luck.

The Patriots would love to play the Steelers in the AFC championship game next week; New England completely owns Pittsburgh with Brady under center, having won six of seven, often by wide margins.

The Ravens are the team the Patriots would rather not face, which says a lot about the Ravens' standing as a serious contender.

Of course, the Ravens have to play like serious contenders, at or near the level attained in Kansas City last Sunday. They've experienced their share of consistency issues along the way, but a record of 13 wins in 17 games attests to their problem-solving skills and their potential. This year, there's nothing trumped-up about their ability to traverse the bumpy road that lies ahead. It's possible.

John Eisenberg *covers the Ravens for Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. He worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.*

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