By Stephen Stone
AFC North Champion Analyst (@SrStoneSports)
The pageantry of football is never more evident when the gridiron is immersed in raw emotion. Football is an emotional and violent game, but true raw rivalries have lost their intensity now that franchises are moving and players are changing teams every year. Luckily, this isn't true in the case of the Patriots and the Ravens. These teams plain don't like each other, regardless of who is on each respective roster. It makes for some compelling football. The two Super Bowl contenders lead the slate of games this Sunday.
Here are five things to think about heading into the weekend.
1. History says the Ravens won’t get revenge this week
Last January, the Patriots capitalized on a dropped pass by Lee Evans and a missed field goal by Billy Cundiff and beat the Ravens to advance to the Super Bowl - the team's fifth in 11 years. Baltimore has been stewing while anxiously awaiting their rematch. But just because they are angry, it doesn't mean they will be successful on Sunday.
Teams that come so close to breaking through and making the Super Bowl wait all offseason to get another crack at the franchise that ended their championship dreams. However, vengeance has not been served in three years. Dating back to late in the 2009 season, the last four conference championship rematches have been won by the team that came away victorious in the previous contest.
2. Pittsburgh could be falling off
The Steelers won last Sunday, and they are one of the most consistent teams of the last decade. They have won two Super Bowls in the last seven years and have gone to a third. However, they were blown out by Denver to start the season and, despite a turnaround victory against the Jets last weekend, their rankings in the quality stats department are disconcerting for Pittsburgh fans.
The team is outside of the top ten in virtually every category. Despite a commitment to developing an explosive offense, the Steelers are 15th in Scoreability. This has caused the Steelers to fall to 21st in Overall Quality Stats Power Rankings.
3. The Buffalo Bills are immersed in the longest playoff drought in the league. The second longest? Cleveland.
Look, I wish there was something better to write about. I wish these two teams had some kind of fierce rivalry or that their contests regularly had heavy playoff implications. That just isn't the case. Three of the last four contests between these teams have ended in these scores:
Buffalo 13 Cleveland 6
Cleveland 6 Buffalo 3
Cleveland 8 Buffalo 0
We haven't seen performances this consistently bad since Mayim Bialik and Joey Lawrence starred in Blossom.
Moreover, these teams seem to one-up eachother's terrible luck. The Browns have the fumble, the Bills have Scott Norwood. The Browns have the drive, the Bills have the Music City Miracle. It even transcends football. Cleveland has LeBron's defection and Buffalo has the Brett Hull goal. Honestly, are you surprised that the Browns and Bills have the two longest playoff droughts?
4. If history repeats itself, Cincinnati will struggle against the NFC
The Bengals have followed a quirky trend the last four years and if it keeps up they won't have much success in inter-conference games this season. In 2008, Cincinnati went 1-2-1 against the NFC. In 2009, the team went 3-1. In 2010, it reverted to 1-3. In 2011, it went back to 3-1. If the Bengals follow that trend, they will only go 1-3 in inter-conference games this season. However, the best chance for that one win could be this weekend.
Cincinnati has lost four of the last six vs. Dallas, three of the last four against the Giants and have gone 1-2-1 in their last four contests against the Eagles. Meanwhile, they have won three of the last four against the Redskins, Sunday’s opponent.
5. The 2002 Pitsburgh Steelers only 1-2 team to win the AFC North.
Three teams from this division made the playoffs last year. All three are 1-1 and all three have the opportunity to improve to 2-1 or drop to 1-2. The 2002 Steelers won the division's first championship, but ever since the division champ has started either 2-1 or 3-0.
To avoid historical precedent, all three teams must win this Sunday if they want a shot at the divisional crown.