Steelers-Ravens Should Prove Pivotal, Per Usual
It's time for everybody's favorite football rivalry cliche: Throw out the record books.
Sunday will mark the 53rd meeting between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens upon their move from Cleveland in 1996. The Steelers currently hold a 28-24 series lead over the Ravens despite losing the last three of four contests.
The 2020 NFL season has captured quite the amount of conversation, and the AFC North has been largely at the forefront. Number one overall pick Joe Burrow has managed to assure the Cincinnati Bengals are somewhat competitive this season, while the Cleveland Browns (currently 5-2) appear to have finally put the pieces of their puzzle together.
Then, of course, you have the Ravens and Steelers, both eyeing a deep postseason run that will likely either bend or break at the other's expense.
Bi-yearly meetings involving Baltimore and Pittsburgh have produced magical moments through recent memory. Steelers fans may choose to remember Troy Polamalu's pick-six in the AFC Championship game or Antonio Brown reaching across the goal line on Christmas day, while Ravens fans likely remember Torrey Smith's deep touchdown catch at Heinz Field or their wildcard round victory in 2015.
Sunday's meeting promises to be another entertaining chapter between the two divisional heavyweights. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made sure to acknowledge that in his opening statements to media on Tuesday:
"We're back in the kitchen, man. It's AFC North ball. You know we like that. We respect it," said Tomlin.
"It's cool to be in what we believe is the game of the week for the third week in a row. We are humbly honored to be in that. We like to show that respect with how we prepare and then ultimately how we play. You know what the Ravens games are about, man. They are a top-notch organization and football team. They have talent across the board. They're familiar with us. We are familiar with them."
With the Steelers laying claim to the NFL's final team standing without a loss to their record and Baltimore's lone loss coming at the hands of the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday's matchup needs no further headlines to conjure excitement. However, given the rooted disdain between the two clubs and further implications down the road of this matchup, the added spice is welcomed on both sides of the fence.
"The rivalry between Pittsburgh and Baltimore is truly something special in all of sports. These two teams absolutely hate each other for two, sometimes three, days out of the year and respect each other for the rest of them. No matter how good or bad these teams may be, this game is always worth a primetime matchup," said Richard Bradshaw, site expert for FanSided's Baltimore Ravens coverage.
"This season will be no different, as both teams look to be Super Bowl contenders. Not only will fans of both teams be watching this game closely, but the entire league and every football fan is looking forward to this game."
A win for the Ravens would bring them on a level playing field with Pittsburgh with nearly halfway through the schedule prior to matchups with the Colts, Patriots and Titans to follow before Thanksgiving football at Heinz Field is played. A win for the Steelers would put them clear of two games from Baltimore, with dates versus the Cowboys, Bengals and Jaguars residing prior to round two with the Ravens.
For the Ravens, chasing a two-game deficit given Pittsburgh's current form will prove a difficult task in order to win the AFC North. For the Steelers, giving any wiggle room for a potential division crown three-peat from Baltimore could prove to be costly.
"This has the potential to be one of the biggest games of the year for both teams," said Bradshaw. "The game is of massive importance as it will give the winner sole possession of first place in the division. Even though this game comes before the halfway point of the season, the outcome of this game could very easily weigh in on the remainder of each teams' respective season."
Both teams come into week eight with the same destination in mind, just different vehicles.
Baltimore hopes to rally around their young superstar quarterback in Lamar Jackson, with sprinkles of recent acquisitions such as Dez Bryant and Yannick Ngakoue to bolster their roster for the long haul of 2020. Pittsburgh looks to capture one last title run before their once young superstar quarterback Ben Roethlisberger calls it quits. Thanks to stellar play across the board, no reinforcements have been called in on Pittsburgh's part.
Either team's hypothetical road to the Super Bowl involves a minimum of two speed bumps, the first of which comes this Sunday prior to the second being shared with turkey and gravy. While both speed bumps are important, there's no doubting the first one will set the tone for the second one.