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AFC NORTH Steelers may have opportunity to knock Ravens from playoffs

Saturday, December 27, 2003


For that to happen, the Bengals must beat the Browns on Sunday afternoon.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers can't go to the playoffs. They might prevent the Baltimore Ravens from going and, to the Steelers, that's the next best thing to making the postseason themselves.
"These are two teams that have a genuine respect for one another but, probably, a genuine dislike for one another," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said Tuesday.
Dislike might not be a strong enough word.
The Ravens are the Pittsburgh's biggest rivals in the AFC North -- for now, bigger even than the Cleveland Browns -- and the Steelers can take some consolation out of a bad season if they keep Baltimore out of the playoffs.
If the Bengals (8-7) beat the Browns (4-11) Sunday afternoon, the Steelers (6-9) can knock the Ravens (9-6) out of the postseason by beating them in Baltimore for the sixth straight season Sunday night.
Cincinnati and Baltimore then would tie for the AFC North division, and the Bengals own the tiebreaker.
Ward's view
"I don't think anybody likes Baltimore, period," Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said. "They're a confident team and they're playing well, but they don't like us for whatever reason. They talk more than most teams."
The Steelers clearly don't have the same animosity for the Bengals as they do the Ravens -- perhaps because they beat Cincinnati so regularly -- and Ward has his rooting interest figured out.
"I'd rather have Cincinnati go than Baltimore," he said. "Just for [Bengals coach] Marvin Lewis' sake. He's done a tremendous job in Cincinnati. I'd rather have Cincinnati than Baltimore ... it would be more exciting than watching those guys [the Ravens]."
Ward isn't in the minority, either. Numerous Steelers still remember all the on-field talking the Ravens did during Pittsburgh's season-opening 34-15 victory, one that seemed to validate the numerous preseason predictions that the Steelers were the team to beat in the AFC North.
Didn't like remarks
Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, who sat out the game because of a gunshot wound, was especially unhappy with remarks Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis made about that. Lewis says he merely asked about Porter's condition and didn't know why Porter got upset.
"I don't like their team, they don't like us, and there's been a lot of trash talking in the past on both sides," running back Jerome Bettis said. "It's one of those things where it's a rivalry, and that's what makes it a rivalry. I would like to see Cincinnati win so our game means that much more."
Cowher isn't as concerned about who wins the division as he is with the Steelers taking something out of their disappointing season -- other than another loss.
With a loss, the Steelers would match their worst record (6-10 in 1999) since Cowher was hired in 1992.
Would be 3-for-4
If the Steelers pull off the upset, it would be their third victory in four games, with the only loss coming 6-0 to the Jets at a slushy Giants Stadium.
The game before that, the Steelers led the Bengals in the final minute, only to lose 24-20 on a touchdown pass by Jon Kitna.
"We are playing this game for us," Cowher said. "There is a lot of pride at stake ... with us having won this division the last two years, and this year that is not going to be the case. It's a divisional game and probably the team that we rival the most."
The Steelers will again be without starting left tackle Marvel Smith, who will miss his fourth straight game and 10th this season with a neck injury.
Smith went on the injured reserve list, with defensive back B.J. Tucker activated off the practice squad to replace him.
Smith needs at least six more weeks of rest for the neck to properly heal, and Cowher said the condition shouldn't be a problem next season.