By Michael K. Reynolds
Two dogs. One bone.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Baltimore Ravens under the scalding heat of prime time lights this Sunday there is much more than bragging rights and a bitter rivalry at stake.
Yes. There are birds on the menu as the Black and Gold will try to exact revenge for their embarrassing loss to the Ravens earlier this year. And it will be a fan’s feast to throw in a tribute to Mean Joe Greene as the all-time Steelers great will have his number 75 jersey retired.
But make no mistake about it. This game is most significantly about earning pole position for post season hopes.
Whichever of the two teams suffers defeat will be effectively eliminated from the division race as it would give the loser three losses in the AFC North.
The team that falls short will also end up with a 5-4 record that will suddenly make even a Wildcard berth problematic.
The losing team would be in a position of needing to win 5 out of their remaining 7 games to get in and that might not even be enough as the AFC currently has 12 teams in strong playoff contention.
In reality, the loser Sunday night will end up having their playoff tails between their legs.
Yet, a win will put the victor in a position of strong playoff probability.
If the Steelers prevail, they would only have the New York Jets and the Tennessee Titans in the way of an 8-3 record leading into their bye week.
They also would have firm control of their destiny in the AFC North with two games against the division leading Cincinnati Bengals still ahead.
It might be easy to be distracted by the fireworks, fanfare and a well-deserved salute to a Steelers legend. How will Hines Ward be welcomed back after calling the Steelers soft? Will the players want to go after Joe Flacco for some of his comments following the last game?
There is no question it will be a dog fight worthy of what should be high viewer ratings. But the Steelers players and coaches need to be all about game plan and execution.
Because what really matters is that when it’s all over the Steelers end up with the bone in their teeth. It very well could make or break their season.