A part of me feels bad for fans of teams who do not have compelling rivalries with divisional opponents the way that the Pittsburgh Steelers do with the Baltimore Ravens. Even though it has been nice to have the two Ohio teams to beat up on pretty much annually, from a football perspective, Steelers-Ravens games always take a higher priority.
And as much as they may try to avoid it, the players who have been a part of the rivalry know that it applies to them, too. Division games are always something of added intensity, but the Ravens in particular are another beast.
Even the younger players like JuJu Smith-Schuster understand the stakes, as he told reporters on Wednesday. “People ask me who’s your favorite team to play against, and I say our conference”, he said, though he surely meant the division, the AFC North. “We’re so physical, so dominant, and every team is so good, that every game is gonna be a dogfight. It’s never an easy one. but the game against Baltimore means a lot, just because last year, we fell short twice”.
The Steelers have lost to the Ravens more than they have to the Browns and Bengals combined—maybe even twice as much—since Mike Tomlin has been here, but that is the sign of a true rivalry. What they have against Cleveland and Cincinnati can hardly be described as a rivalry when they win with such great frequency.
The Bengals had a good but brief run half a decade ago or so. The Browns are occasionally competitive, though even in this, their best season basically since they returned to the league, they completely bottomed out not just to Pittsburgh but the Baltimore as well. They are 5-0 against everybody else.
The Ravens and the Steelers, though? When these two teams play, the stakes are high, and yet they don’t even seem to matter when the game is being played. Simply winning is the priority, and fortunately that accomplishes the global objectives anyway.
But on the field, it’s about proving who is the better team, who can make the last move on the chess board—or perhaps more aptly, who can throw the last punch. There have been some great finishes in this rivalry.
Last year even featured a tight overtime game early in the season before the Steelers really dropped the ball in the finale against a Robert Griffin-led team of reserves. That’s a nasty taste to leave in your mouth, though most have said that they are past it.
They are not past the fact that the Ravens swept them last year, however, or that they have played a crucial role in keeping the Steelers out of the postseason for the past two years. and you’ll see them take that out on the field.