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AFC North: Steelers Back in Playoff Hunt

What a difference a week can make, last week following the Pittsburgh Steelers loss to the Cleveland Browns, everyone was worried about the team making the playoffs. This week, after beating the first place Baltimore Ravens, everyone is talking division title and more.

Pittsburgh went into Baltimore on Sunday and showed grit and determination in their 23-20 victory over the Ravens. Now Baltimore owns just a two game lead over Pittsburgh in the AFC North with four games to play. What makes this interesting is the Ravens have a much more difficult schedule over their last four games than the Steelers do.

The Ravens must travel to Washington this week, then two games at home against Denver and the New York Giants and end their regular season with AFC North rival Cincinnati, which is tied with Pittsburgh in second with a 7-5 record. Pittsburgh hosts San Diego this week, plays at Dallas the following week and then has division rivals Cincinnati and Cleveland to end the season.

The Steelers were led by veteran quarterback Charlie Batch on Sunday as starter Ben Roethlisberger is still sidelined with a bad shoulder. Last week against Cleveland, Batch did not look good as he had only 199 yards passing and threw three interceptions in a Steelers loss.

However, this week he turned in a solid performance against Baltimore and gave Pittsburgh fans and coaches’ faith that he can carry the load until Roethlisberger returns to action.

Batch threw for one touchdown and 276 yards and the win puts the Steelers right back into the playoff hunt. With three of their last four games at home, Pittsburgh’s spirits are up and this week they host San Diego, a team struggling to find its way and losers of 8 of their past 10 games.

Let us not forget that the Steelers in the end will go nowhere without the services of Roethlisberger. However, if Batch can play at least one more week against San Diego before Big Ben is needed, it will give the starting quarterback another week to heal.

Baltimore went into Sunday’s game thinking they could easily take care of the Steelers. First, the Steelers were without Roethlisberger, the Steelers also had a makeshift offensive line due to injuries and the Ravens had not lost since 2010 on their home field.

Baltimore is much more productive when playing at home. They score more, throw for more completions, yards and touchdowns. However, on Sunday that did not happen.

The play calling by Baltimore’s offensive coordinator Cam Cameron could be called into question. With one of the league’s best rushers in Ray Rice, the Ravens could have tried to establish the run early, yet their first 9 offensive plays were passes and Rice only ran 12 times the entire game and his back up Bernard Pierce had only 8 carries.

Baltimore’s defense has struggled this season, but of late has showed signs of turning around. However, in the second half they did not stop Pittsburgh when they needed to in crunch time. In the second half, Pittsburgh gained 173 yards on the Ravens defense and put up 17 points on the board.

Four weeks remain and anything can happen, just ask the Ravens. Therefore, before the Steelers start making plans for the postseason, they need to take care of the Chargers first and then their last three opponents.

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