By Stephen Stone (@SrStoneSports)
Cold Hard Football Facts' AFC North Sniper
Cue Michael Buffer. Cue Desmond Davis. The battle everyone has been waiting for is nearly upon us. The Steelers and Ravens finally kick off Sunday night. On behalf of those who know what it’s like to play in the trenches and appreciate rough-and-tough football, I can’t effin’ wait.
This is the age of fantasy football, so we as fans (I admit, myself included) get excited when we see a 45-42 box score because we get to find out how many touchdowns our guys scored. We’ve become so infatuated with that aspect of the game that sometimes we forget how fantastic it can be to see hard-hitting, stingy, dirty defensive struggles. The Ravens and Steelers’ Sunday night contest won’t be about flashy passing games. It won’t be about diva receivers. This is gritty, hard-nosed football. This is the game the way it was meant to be played.
In the free agency era where today’s rival is tomorrow’s teammate, you don’t get a lot of hatred between teams and players. That’s not the case with the Steelers and Ravens. These guys flat out don’t like each other. They beat the snot out of one another and curse their fallen opponent as they shove them back into the mud. Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore is about bruises and broken bones. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Having said that, I can’t help but feel saddened that we won’t get to see these teams at full strength. The Steelers will not have their All-Star caliber quarterback, which means Baltimore will be the favorite, even on the road. I still think Pittsburgh is the better team, but if they go to war without their general, the Ravens will be tough to beat.
Then again, you never know what will happen when these teams get together. With that being said, let’s take a look at five things to consider heading into week 10.
1. Since 2004, the Steelers are 86-36 when Roethlisberger starts and 9-6 when he doesn’t.
In my Monday night recap article, I examined Pittsburgh’s success when Roethlisberger doesn’t put up the bulk of the passing stats. They do alright when he doesn’t make all the plays and slightly worse when he doesn’t start, but both records pale in comparison to what Pittsburgh can do when Big Ben starts the game.
The Steelers winning percentage is 0.600 when Roethlisberger doesn’t start and 0.705 when he does. It’s essentially the difference between going 9-7 and 11-5 every year which is gigantic in today’s parity era.
As I said earlier this week, Pittsburgh isn’t doomed without Ben in the lineup, but they don’t want to go a long period of time without him and they don’t want to play two games against Baltimore sans their franchise quarterback. Remember, the Steelers went 3-1 when Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season, but the teams’ only loss came at the hands of the Ravens. With two of their next three games against their divisional rivals, they will want their offensive leader back sooner rather than later.
2. In their last ten games, Pittsburgh and Baltimore are separated by a total of eight points
There are lots of interesting things to say about this contest. Dating back to 2008 (which is when I like to consider the start of the modern-era rivalry between these two teams) six games have been won by three points. Out of the ten they’ve played - which includes two playoff contests - nine have been decided by single digits.
The Steelers have won six games overall, but since 2008 the rivalry in the regular season is all tied up four games each.
These teams are so close to one another, you simply come to expect the game to be in doubt in the final minutes. I don’t think anyone predicts anything less this week, even if Roethlisberger isn’t going to play.
3. Joe Flacco is 4-1 in his last five regular season games against the Steelers
The Ravens quarterback lost three times to the Steelers his rookie year. Things have turned around since then, even though he has yet to beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Dating back to their second matchup in 2009, Flacco is 4-1 in the regular season versus his arch nemeses.
After struggling for the month of October, Flacco had a great game on Sunday. If he carries that momentum into Pittsburgh, he could lead the Ravens to an important victory and put the team well in front of the Steelers in the divisional race.
However, this is a road game, and if you read my column, you know how poorly the Baltimore signal caller plays outside of Baltimore. Moreover, Pittsburgh’s pass defense won’t be easy to beat. The Steelers currently rank fourth in Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt, sixth in Defensive Real Quarterback Rating and fifth in Defensive Passer Rating.
4. The Browns and Cowboys: An history rivalry turned rare matchup.
I suppose I should acknowledge that there are other games in the division this weekend.
There was a time when Cleveland and Dallas played in the same conference (ok, it was called the NFL and not the NFC at the time, but you get the idea.) Then came the merger and this rivalry went
From October 16, 1960 until December, 12, 1970, Cleveland and Dallas squared off 20 times. This Sunday will be the 30th overall meeting or, 10th matchup in the last 40 years. This will be the fifth contest between the two in the past 23 years. Considering that three of those came in the last eight years following the schedule realignment that guarantees a contest every four seasons, the matchups between these teams are few and far between.
This is only the second time the Browns have seen Tony Romo even though this is his seventh year as a starter. That’s amazing, but not as amazing as the fact that Dallas’ veteran quarterback is only three years older than Brandon Weeden, Cleveland’s rookie.
5. Are the Bengals still alive in the playoff hunt?
I’ll be the first to admit I wrote this team off as recently as a week ago, but a blowout win over the Giants has significantly improved Cincinnati’s prospects. A win over the Chiefs on Sunday puts them back at .500 with six games left to play. Why can’t they carry that momentum over the home stretch?
After the Chiefs, the Bengals’ next four games are against the Raiders, Chargers, Cowboys and Eagles - all teams with losing records. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that this team could claw its way to 8-4 or even 9-5 before it’s last two games - at Pittsburgh and home against Baltimore. At the very least, this team could control its own destiny. Additionally, Cincinnati could benefit from the nature of Pittsburgh and Baltimore’s next three weeks because, if the two teams beat each other up, they could at least put themselves in position to overtake one and get a wildcard.
That’s what’s so great about the NFL. You never really know what will happen, other than the fact that Pittsburgh and Baltimore will beat the crap out of each other Sunday night.