Perhaps the most aggravating aspect of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ loss to the Bears today is that they let slip from their grasp a golden opportunity to take hold of the AFC North after the Baltimore Ravens laid an egg in merry old England, dropping a game to the Jaguars by a 44-7 margin.
The Ravens, who finished last season with an 8-8 record after dropping their final two games of the season, including the division-clinching contest in Week 16, got their 2016 campaign off to a hot start, allowing just 10 points and producing 10 turnovers in wins over the Browns and Bengals, both of whom as of this writing remain winless.
With Baltimore falling to 2-1, however, and the Steelers scheduled to play there next week, they could have set themselves up for an opportunity to take a two-game lead with a road victory in-hand against their top rival, an opportunity that they squandered with a discouraging showing in Chicago, a game that featured multiple oddities and an overtime heartbreaker.
Of course, they can still take hold of the division lead next week; in fact, however wins the game is going to own at least temporary position of the top seed in the AFC North, as they will be bringing with them identical 2-1 records. In case you’re wondering, if it ends in a tie, the Ravens would hold the tiebreaker with a 2-0-1 division record.
It goes without saying that division standings don’t mean a great deal during the final quarter of the season, as a lot of things can change over the course of the next 12 games, and they certainly have before. It was just a few years ago that every team in the division was 7-5 after 12 games.
But to have that opportunity, already knowing going into the game that the Ravens lost, and to be unable to capitalize it, makes the loss all the more bitter, in my mind. And Baltimore will be looking to avenge a full-fledged embarrassment when they host the Steelers next week.
Unfortunately, the Ravens’ success over Pittsburgh, particularly in Baltimore, has extensive documentation in their recent history. In fact, the Steelers hold a four-game losing streak in games played there dating back to the 2013 season. Their last win there came in 2012, 23-20, getting to 7-5 before losing their next three games.
Pittsburgh must figure out a way to buck that trend and net their first win in Baltimore over their last five attempts. While being one game back in the division within the first four games of the season is not going to be a make-or-break moment, it is critical that they find a way to play better on the road.