It’s only 17 years old, but the Ravens-Steelers rivalry is currently the best in the NFL. It helps that the Browns and Bengals are irrelevant most years and the AFC North turns into a two horse race between Baltimore and Pittsburgh. For so many reasons Sundays Ravens-Steelers game has a strange feel to it. Marquee players who’ve made this rivalry special have been wiped out with injuries.
No Big Ben, no Troy Polamalu, no Ray Lewis. No defense in Baltimore and a strange defense in Pittsburgh. Despite being ranked number one it’s a kinder, gentler Dick LeBeau style defense in Pittsburgh. They don’t give up a lot of yards but they’re attacking Blitzburgh approach is missing. The Steelers, like the Ravens, have only 19 sacks, the league lead is 41 and Pittsburgh’s 9 takeaway’s are the second lowest in the NFL (The Colts are last with 6).
The Ravens get a big edge in special teams. Jacoby Jones is a two-time 2012 AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. He’s averaging 38.6 yards a kickoff return with 2 TD’s. In the kicking game Ravens rookie Justin Tucker has been near perfect hitting 17 of 18 field goals and all 4 attempts from 50 yards and beyond. Just maybe, Tucker will hit a late one in that crazy wind swept open-end of the stadium for a game winner. Sam Koch is money averaging 47.3 yards a punt.
In a pass happy league the running game might be the key on Sunday night. I’d expect the Ravens to over-commit to stopping the run and make seldom used Byron Leftwich try to beat them with the pass. The Ravens rank 26th against the run giving up an ugly 132 yards a game. Ray Rice will be running against a Pittsburgh defense ranked 5th giving up 94.6 rushing yards a game.
Pittsburgh will win this game because the Ravens are a bad road team. They will set a franchise record for program sales as fans try to figure out who are those guys playing cornerback for the Ravens. The Steelers have more desperation on their side and the will of the Heinz Field crowd (and maybe the officials).
The Ravens will win Sunday night because Joe Flacco, not Byron Leftwich is their quarterback and Joe has experience leading 4th quarter drives in Pittsburgh. Ray Rice, Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones will help the Purple and Black make it 3 straight regular season wins in Pittsburgh.
Some familiar names might be missing but not that electric feeling when the Ravens and Steelers get ready for another street-fight. If you love the NFL’s best rivalry the best part….you’ll only have to wait 2 more weeks to see it again.