By Mike Batista
Get your popcorn and butter ready. Part III of the latest Ravens-Steelers trilogy is coming to a theater near you. This time, the Ravens won't be doing the Steelers' dirty work. This movie will contain graphic violence.
But we'll get to all that later.
The Steelers enter the playoffs with a 12-4 record and a No. 2 seed in the AFC.
It's the same record and seed the Steelers had in 2008.
The parallels between the 2008 and 2010 Steelers don't end there, however.
- In both seasons, the Steelers finished with convincing wins over the Browns. They closed 2008 with a 31-0 win and beat them 41-9 last Sunday.
- In both seasons, all four of the Steelers' losses came to playoff teams. They lost to the Eagles, Giants, Colts and Titans in 2008 and the Ravens, Saints, Patriots and Jets in 2010.
- In both seasons, the Steelers lost their last game in October to the defending Super Bowl champion. They lost to the Giants on Oct. 26, 2008 and to the Saints on Halloween this season.
- In both seasons, the Steelers lost at home to a New York team.
- In both seasons, one of the Steelers' losses ended with an incomplete pass into the end zone that could have won the game. In 2008, a Hail Mary fell short against the Colts. This season, they attempted a game-winning pass from the Jets' 10-yard line as time ran out.
- In both seasons, the Steelers not only went 6-2 in the first and second half of the season, they went 3-1 in each quarter of the season.
- In both seasons, they allowed the fewest points in the NFL, 223 in 2008 and 232 this season.
- In both seasons, they won a game by one point. They beat the Chargers 11-10 in 2008 and the Dolphins 23-22 this season.
- In both seasons, they essentially won the AFC North by winning in Baltimore in December, 13-9 in 2008 and 13-10 this season.
- In both seasons, they lost convincingly to the top-seeded team in the AFC. They lost 31-14 to the Titans in 2008 and 39-26 to the Patriots this season.
Even without them actually playing, the 2010 playoffs haven't gone quite as well for the Steelers as they did two years ago.
In the 2008 wild-card round, the Chargers beat the Colts, one of the teams that beat the Steelers, then lost to the Steelers in the divisional playoffs.
The Ravens earned a date with the Steelers in the AFC championship game by upsetting the Titans, another team that beat the Steelers in 2008.
The Cardinals reached Super Bowl XLIII by beating the Eagles in the NFC championship game.
So on their way to winning Super Bowl XLIII, the Steelers were one round away from facing three teams they lost to in the regular season.
The Chargers, Ravens and Cardinals did the Steelers' dirty work for them in the 2008 playoffs, and the Steelers thanked them all by beating them.
No such luck this time.
If the Steelers want to get to Super Bowl XLV, they'll not only need to handle the Ravens again Saturday at 4:30 at Heinz Field, they'll have to find a way to beat the Jets or Patriots in the AFC championship game.
The Ravens gave the Patriots a better game than the Steelers this season, taking them to overtime before losing in New England. There was a lot of talk about the Ravens hopefully offing the Patriots so the Steelers wouldn't have to face them.
But the Ravens don't want to be the Steelers' errand boys again. When the Jets' win locked them into a matchup against the Patriots next week, all the Ravens had to do was beat the Chiefs Sunday to earn a ticket to Pittsburgh. The Ravens want another shot at the Patriots just as much as the Steelers. Only one of them will get that shot.
The Steelers better be ready.