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Coaches tackle Steelers/Ravens picks

January 17, 2009|By MARK KELLER

TRI-STATE -- When asked about Sunday's AFC Championship Game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, Smithsburg High School football coach Buddy Orndorff made his opinion clear.

"This should be the Super Bowl," Orndorff said.

With apologies to the Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles -- the two teams playing in the NFC Championship Game -- there is an overwhelming sense that tonight's Ravens-Steelers matchup is the big game of this year's NFL playoffs.

Each team has won 13 games. Each team has been hot late in the season, winning seven of their last eight.

Even the NFL executives see this as the marquee matchup, putting the game in the prime-time slot and relegating the NFC game to midafternoon.

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Not to mention the Ravens and Steelers are heated rivals, arguably surpassing the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins for the most bitter rivalry in the NFL.

Pittsburgh already has beaten Baltimore twice this season -- 23-20 in overtime in late September and 13-9 in mid-December.

That leads Berkeley Springs football coach Angelo Luvara -- who grew up in Pittsburgh -- to believe the Ravens will win today's game and move on to the Super Bowl.

"The team that scores the most points will win, they always do," Luvara said, trying to avoid picking against his hometown Steelers. "But if I was pushed, I would say the Ravens because it is hard to beat somebody three times in one year."

Boonsboro coach Clayton Anders also predicts a Ravens win, 13-10. Though Anders doesn't claim to be a fan of either team, tonight's weather should at least make him think about his team, the Green Bay Packers.

Anders said the first football game he watched in its entirety was the 1967 NFL Championship Game between the Packers and Dallas Cowboys, often referred to as the "Ice Bowl" since the game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero.

Tonight's weather shouldn't be that severe. According to The Weather Channel, the temperature at game time in Pittsburgh tonight will be 25 degrees, although snow is possible.

North Hagerstown coach Dan Cunningham picked the Steelers to win 23-16 in large part because they have so much experience in this type of contest.

"The Steelers are a big-game team," Cunningham said. "Just look at their schedule. They have been battle tested week in and week out. It is just another day at the office."

Waynesboro coach Darwin Seiler predicts a 24-10 Steelers victory. Asked for a key to victory, Seiler replied succinctly: "Turnovers."

Cunningham concurred with Seiler. "Whoever turns the ball over will lose. The Steelers are better at making the turnovers points."

The local coaches also agree that the game will be a defensive battle, and why wouldn't it be? The Steelers have the top rated defense in the NFL, while the Ravens are ranked second.

Orndorff, who originally is from Cumberland, Md., predicts a 13-10 Steelers win.

"On defense, they have to pressure (Baltimore quarterback) Joe Flacco," Orndorff said. "Troy Polamalu being banged up could hurt Pittsburgh's chances.

"Pittsburgh has to be able to run the ball, which won't be easy, and keep the ball away from Ed Reed."

Cunningham is the only coach to admit to a selfish reason for his prediction. His classroom is next to that of Dave Warrenfeltz, who is a Steelers fan.

"Honestly, I would like to see the Ravens win," Cunningham said. "(But then) Coach Warrenfeltz will be in a bad mood all week and I don't want that."

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