One of the greatest cruelties of Ben Roethlisberger’s injury last season, from a football perspective, is the fact that it robbed fans of an even-strength matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, which arguably remains the best rivalry in the NFL for the past decade-plus.
Amazingly, this will be the first game in the rivalry during which both Roethlisberger and Lamar Jackson for the Ravens will be under center. The only game Jackson started against the Steelers was last season, so these two have never gone head-to-head before.
But it’s been even longer since Roethlisberger has been in one of these games, and he’s ready to get back out there on Sunday, with first place in the AFC North on the line. If the Steelers win, they will be 7-0 with a two-game lead. If the Ravens win, both team will be 6-1, and they will have the head-to-head tiebreaker with a game in Pittsburgh coming down the line.
“I think this is what football fans want. This is what the NFL wants”, Roethlisberger said to reporters earlier today about even-strength Steelers-Ravens games. “I didn’t get to play them last year, and I missed this. As much as this game hurts in terms of physically, at the end of the day, you miss this rivalry because it is fun. Like I said, it is football in its purest form. It should be a good matchup. We will have our hands full”.
There is a statistic going around showing just how even the two teams have been over the past two decades, something like each team has gone 23-23 since 1999, and have averaged roughly 20 points per game. Blowouts are exceedingly rare—in fact, one-possession games are far more common.
Jackson had the worst game of his career against the Steelers in 2019. He threw three interceptions and was sacked five times, both of those standing out as career-worst numbers. He averaged just 1.64 adjusted net yards per pass attempt—although he did also rush for 70 yards, and ultimately won the game, in overtime, against Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, thanks to Marlon Humphrey forcing a fumble.
As for Roethlisberger, the last time he played in Baltimore, he won, 23-16, though that was against Joe Flacco at quarterback. He completed 28 of 47 passes for 270 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions, and also scored via quarterback sneak. The Steelers also won 26-9 in Baltimore in 2017. That snapped a four-game road losing streak in the series.
This is the strongest that both teams have been at the same time in quite a long time, likely going back to the early 2010s. Both teams are regarded as plausible candidates for the best in the NFL right now. That should mean a good football game—and hopefully one that the Steelers can win.