The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have so far tread roughly comparable courses over the course of the first three weeks of the season. In the cases of each, their games have come against either underwhelming opponents or those who were undermanned, and both of them are coming off of tough and frustrating losses.
Neither AFC North team is playing very close to its best football, on either side of the ball, though the Ravens’ defense through the first two games did very well—against the Browns and Bengals. Today, they draw one another in a pivotal early-season struggle for control of the division as they seek to avenge their previous embarrassment.
The two teams split their matches a year ago, each winning at home, with the Steelers coming at an absolutely crucial juncture in the penultimate game of the season. Pittsburgh brought into the contest an 8-6 record, the Ravens the same. Whoever won the game, essentially, was going to win the division.
For a while, the Steelers looked like the game was theirs, but it took a couple of drives at the end of the game to match a go-ahead Ravens drive in between, and a remarkable individual effort from Antonio Brown, to pull it off, for just their second win in eight games over Baltimore.
The division is not on the line today, but the driver’s seat for the pole position in the division race is at stake. With both entering the game with a 2-1 record, the victor will be in the lead, a game ahead, with a head-to-head win already in their pocket, through the first quarter of the regular season.
That does not mean that there is not plenty of time remaining for whoever comes out the loser to overcome their result. It would not be the first time that we have seen one team storm back and wrest control of the division from the other late in the year, after all.
But in taking the pulse of the team at the moment, this point in time does ring of significant import. It’s more than just a Ravens game. For a game in week four of the regular season, the outcome of this one feels rather momentous.
It will set the tone for the division race going forward, for sure. Whoever wins will be able to either perpetuate or overturn a long-running storyline as a result. While ultimately everything comes down to what happens on the field, there are aspects of the story happening off the field that can have their effect.
The Steelers were able to rebound with their most complete win the season a year ago after they went 2-1 to start the season, coming off a far more embarrassing loss in Philadelphia. Even if they fail to do that, one can take solace in the face that they also overcame a subsequent four-game losing streak to make it to the AFC Championship game.
But, still, it kind of feels like they need to win this one, if only for the psychology behind it.