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Original Issue

Peter King's Forecast: AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME


A COUPLE of weeksago I picked the Ravens to work their way up from the sixth seed and win theAFC, and though they're in position to do that now, the team may be too beat-upto pull it off in Pittsburgh against the healthy and revved-up Steelers. Threethings I saw in Baltimore's hard-fought 13--10 win over Tennessee worry me: TheRavens' corners got scorched, their linebackers struggled in pass coverage, andthe backs looked as if they were running in quicksand. But it's the injuries tokey players that are most distressing. Their best cover man, corner SamariRolle (groin), and best pass rusher, linebacker Terrell Suggs (shoulder), wereKO'd in the Titans game and appeared doubtful for this week; the same goes fortop running back, Le'Ron McClain, who gained 12 yards on 12 carries on a bumankle. Other than that, Coach Harbaugh, how did you like the game?

The Steelersbring a better QB, a better receiving corps and a better run D than the Ravensfaced in Tennessee, yet Pittsburgh put up only 36 points in eight-plus quartersagainst Baltimore in two excruciatingly narrow wins. Also, you can't discountthe possibility that the Ravens' valiant vets will rise once more against ateam they know better than their brothers. One more thing: I always laugh whenI hear someone say it's hard to beat a team three times in one year. AsBaltimore coach John Harbaugh told me after Sunday's game, "I'd rather bethe team that won the first two rather than the team that lost them." TheSteelers agree. I expect them to ride a healthy Willie Parker for 25 carries orso and try to keep the game's X factor, Baltimore's precocious rookie passerJoe Flacco (above), off the field.