Growing up in Pittsburgh, the biggest two days of the year were the two times each season that the Steelers played the Cleveland Browns. Christmas, New Years Day, Thanksgiving, and the 4th of July all paled in comparison.
But those days are an ancient memory. As much as we like to pretend that Steelers/Browns is still a rivalry, it isn’t. There hasn’t been any excitement in that “rivalry” since Art Modell packed his bags and moved his team out of town.
Last year, the Cincinnati Bengals swept the AFC North. They’ve already beaten the Baltimore Ravens this year, and they are hoping to repeat as champions of the AFC North. But try as I might, I can’t get very excited about playing the Bengals.
When it comes down to it, the one rivalry that stands above all others is Steelers/Ravens. Not only is it the biggest rivalry in the AFC North, but it’s one of the best rivalries in the NFL. And it’s definitely the bloodiest.
Steelers versus Ravens is the Allies versus the Axis, Batman versus the Joker, Dorothy versus the Wicked Witch of the West, and The Biggest Losers versus Donuts, all rolled into one. It’s nuclear war……..on the football field.
These two teams don’t like one another. Okay, I’m being politically correct. In truth, they hate each other. And that hatred comes out during the game.
Over the past Decade, the Steelers and the Ravens have been the two most dominant defenses in the NFL. So when they play one another, bragging rights are on the line. Both teams believe their defense is better. The only way to prove it is by beating one another. And they usually beat the snot out of one another.
Both teams usually lose players to injury during this game. I’m sure the NFL probably mandates that they have extra paramedics along the sidelines whenever the Steelers and the Ravens play.
Part of the reason for the fierce rivalry is the fact that in many ways, the two teams are mirror images of one another. Warped, twisted, bizarro mirror images, but mirror images nonetheless. It’s like that episode of Star Trek where the crew of the Enterprise met the evil versions of themselves from another universe. The Ravens are the evil Steelers.
Both teams espouse the same philosophy; run the ball, and stop the run. Steelers fans know that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has been waging war on that philosophy. But with Ben Roethlisberger on suspension, the Steelers have had to return to their roots.
Last week the Steelers ran for over 200 yards, while holding Tampa Bay’s Cadillac Williams to only 13 yards rushing. The week before that, they held Tennessee’s Chris Johnson to 34 yards rushing. And in week 1 they held Atlanta’s Michael Turner to 42 yards rushing.
Similarly, the Ravens held the Jets’ LaDainian Tomlinson to 62 yards, Cincinnati’s Cedrick Benson to 78 yards, and the Browns’ Peyton Hillis to 144 yards. Wait a minute! Who the heck is Peyton Hillis? And how did he run for 144 yards on the Ravens? Okay, obviously the Ravens aren’t as good as the Steelers. But they’re still one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Who are the toughest linebackers in football? James Harrison and Ray Lewis. Who are the best safeties in the NFL? Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed. Who are the most physical wide receivers in the game? Hines Ward and Anquan Boldin. See what I mean? The teams are very similar.
I expect the Steelers to win this Sunday. It will probably be a hard-fought, physical, low-scoring win, but it will be a win nonetheless.
When Big Ben returns, he will be joining a team that is 4-0, and sitting atop both the AFC North and the entire NFL. What could be better than that?
Here we go Steelers, here we go!
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