PITTSBURGH, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Round Three between bitter Central Division rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3) and the Baltimore Raavens (1-6), takes place Sunday to determine a trip to the AFC championship game.
"We've been looking for them (in the playoffs)," Ravens linebacker Jamie Sharper said. "If 'The Bus' (Steelers Pro Bowl running back Jerome Bettis) is smart, he won't play."
Bettis, Pittsburgh's leading rusher, has missed the last five games with hip and groin injuries.
Sharpe equated Bettis' comparison of Spikes to Lewis as the same as saying, "'Where's My Car' is just as good as 'Titanic.'"
But Steelers safety Lee Flowers is also not one to shy away from a war of words and summed up this rivalry.
"We both know each other very well and it's hatred, it's hatred," Flowers said.
The defending Super Bowl champion Ravens are 5-0 in the postseason under coach Brian Billick and flexed their muscle in the wild card round with a dominant 20-3 victory over the Miami Dolphins last week. Baltimore rushed for 226 yards, forced three turnovers and held Miami to 151 total yards.
But the Steelers were the AFC's best team during the regular season, ranked first in the league in defense and clinched their first division title since 1997 with a 26-21 win at Baltimore on December 16.
Without Bettis, Kordell Stewart passed for a career-high 333 yards and two touchdowns against the vaunted defense of the Ravens as the Steelers earned their sixth AFC Central title in 10 years under coach Bill Cowher. Stewart also hurt the Ravens with his legs, rushing for 55 yards on 10 carries.
In the absence of Bettis, Stewart completed 20-of-31 passes with touchdowns of 90 yards to Bobby Shaw and 25 yards to Plaxico Burress.
"Kordell did not make mistakes and was very, very elusive with the ball," Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett. "We'll need to do a better job of disrupting their offense than we did the last time."
Pittsburgh totaled a season-high 476 yards and controlled the ball for more than 41 minutes. Meanwhile, the Steelers defense, led by inebackers Jason Gildon and Earl Holmes, held Baltimore to just 149 total yards before the Ravens went 58 yards on nine plays in their final drive.
Baltimore's Elvis Grbac completed 20-of-38 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
The win was especially sweet for the Steelers, who held the Ravens to just 10 first downs and 183 total yards in the first meeting here on November 4, but suffered a 13-10 loss because Kris Brown missed 4-of-5 field goal attempts.
Burress annoyed some Baltimore players when he said Pittsburgh "physically beat up" the Ravens in the first meeting. Sharpe took particular exception to Burress' comments and referred to him as "Plexiglass."
But in the rematch, the 6-5 Burress gave fits to Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister, catching eight passes for a career-high 164 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown.
A key to Sunday's contest will be the play of corners McAlister and Duane Starks against Burress and fellow receiver Hines Ward, who had 94 receptions for 1,003 yards.
With pass-rushing threats Jason Gildon and Joey Porter on the outside and Earl Holmes and NFL defensive rookie of the year Kendrell Bell patrolling the inside, the Steelers have a linebacker corps that rivals Baltimore's trio of Lewis, Sharper and Peter Boulware, who led the AFC with 15 sacks.