Where Does Ravens vs. Steelers Rank Amongst NFL's Top Rivalry Games?

Dan Van Wie@@DanVanWieContributor IIINovember 18, 2012

Where Does Ravens vs. Steelers Rank Amongst NFL's Top Rivalry Games?

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    The intense rivalry between two AFC North foes, the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, starts up again in Week 11 action. Baltimore (7-2) is one game ahead of Pittsburgh (6-3) in the AFC North, so this is obviously a huge game to help determine who will win the division.

    The rivals will meet again in two more weeks in Baltimore, so whoever loses the Week 11 match will have a chance at some revenge.

    There are a number of great rivalries in the history of the NFL, but where exactly does the Baltimore and Pittsburgh rivalry rank among them? 

    Leading up to this weekend's game, Pro Football Talk has dedicated some time to the rivalry and here are some quotes from key personnel about the series:

    From Ravens coach John Harbaugh: "This is a defining type of rivalry. It means so much to both teams."

    From Steelers coach Mike Tomlin: "It's about physicality. It's about playing good hard-nosed football."

    From Steelers safety Ryan Clark: "These are the games that are the most competitive."

    Those quotes all prove that this game matters greatly to both teams. It is about pride and imposing their will on the other team. The fact that this will be played in front of a national audience on Sunday Night Football only adds to the importance of the contest.

    We will devote the next four slides to taking a closer look at the Ravens and Steelers rivalry before we proceed to our overall ranking.

Recent History of Ravens vs. Steelers Rivalry

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    Part of the fascination with the Ravens versus Steelers rivalry is how closely the two teams wind up at the end of the year in the AFC North standings.

    While Baltimore holds a slight one-game advantage this year, these teams shared identical records for the prior three straight seasons. In 2011, both teams were 12-4, and they shared the identical 12-4 record again in 2010. In 2009, both teams were 9-7. In 2008, they were one game apart in the standings with Pittsburgh at 12-4, while Baltimore was 11-5.

    It looks like either Baltimore or Pittsburgh will once again win the AFC North division. That would mean that out of the past seven years, one of these two rivals will have won the division title in six of the past seven years. The lone exception was Cincinnati winning the title in 2009.

    Another reason for the popularity of the rivalry is the championships that these teams have captured. Over the past 12 Super Bowls, Pittsburgh has won twice (Super Bowls XLIII and XL), while Baltimore won once (Super Bowl XXXV). Being in the national spotlight only adds more prestige to these franchises.

    Either Pittsburgh or Baltimore has appeared in five of the past eight AFC Championship games. In 2008, both teams made it to the AFC Championship, with Pittsburgh winning 23-14.

Steelers and Ravens Have Very Competitive Games

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    Another way to illustrate how deep the Ravens versus Steelers rivalry goes is to look at how close and competitive the games have been between these teams.

    Over the past seven regular seasons (2005-2011), there have been eight games that were decided by a field goal or less. In fact, there was a streak of five straight regular-season games that had been decided by a field goal that ran from 2008-2010. That streak was snapped when Baltimore beat Pittsburgh in 2011 35-7.

    In the past 14 regular season games, Baltimore has won eight and Pittsburgh has won six times. The teams met twice in the playoffs in that time span, with Pittsburgh winning both times. So they have split their past 16 meetings with eight wins apiece. That is another sign of a great rivalry, with neither team being overly dominant over the other.

    One other thing to add is how close these games have been. In the past 14 games, three of them have wound up going to overtime. Three games in the that time span have resulted in a final score of 23-20. When you have so many close games, every snap takes on more significance.

    For what it is worth, the Ravens currently hold a three-game winning streak over the Steelers. Obviously there is a lot on the line for this meeting: first place in the AFC North and potential home-field advantage for the postseason.

Health Issues Facing the 2012 Version of the Rivalry

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    The Week 11 contest featuring Baltimore and Pittsburgh will be missing some of the biggest stars from both teams. The game was already going to be a war, but this time the depth of each team's roster will have more input as to which team wins.

    Here is the link to the Week 11 injury report on NFL Network.

    For Pittsburgh, they will be without QB Ben Roethlisberger, S Troy Polamalu, T Marcus Gilbert and WR Antonio Brown. Pittsburgh placed LB Chris Carter on IR. Looking ahead to the rematch in Week 13, nobody knows for sure if Roethlisberger's dislocated rib will be healed enough by then to play. If Leftwich is able to play better with each passing week of getting back into the swing of things, perhaps that will help to minimize the loss of Roethlisberger to a degree.

    For Baltimore, they already have placed LB Ray Lewis and CB Lardarius Webb on IR. Lewis has the designation to return later in the year. CB Jimmy Smith will also miss the game . The Ravens have placed RB Bobby Rainey on IR. DT Haloti Ngata sat out last week's game against Oakland due to injuries, but he is expected to play against the Steelers.

    Ravens LB Terrell Suggs keeps getting closer to full health as he recovers from his Achilles' surgery in the offseason.

    The Baltimore secondary has been hit hard with injuries, so they are now reduced to going with guys that are hardly household names, such as Corey Graham, Cary Williams and Chykie Brown. The real question is will Byron Leftwich be able to take advantage of the situation?

Who Will Step Up to Play a Key Role in Week 11 Game?

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    There are a number of interesting subplots going on in the Sunday Night Football game.

    For the Steelers, it starts with veteran backup QB Byron Leftwich, who is filling in for Ben Roethlisberger. Leftwich hasn't started an NFL game since 2009, so to say that he is a little rusty is an understatement.

    The Steelers will go with their three running backs committee and hope to wear down the Ravens defense by grinding out what they can with their running game. The three backs are Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman.

    With Antonio Brown out, the Steelers will look to Mike Wallace; Heath Miller and Emmanuel Sanders will look to take advantage of the absence of CB Lardarius Webb and CB Jimmy Smith. That of course depends on Leftwich being able to deliver the ball to them.

    For Baltimore, they will want to exploit the Steelers secondary due to the absence of Troy Polamalu. You would expect Joe Flacco to outperform Leftwich, but he is going up against the No. 1 defense in the NFL. So this should prove to be an entertaining game.

    Now that we have covered this rivalry in detail, let's proceed with our overall ranking of where this rivalry appears in the big picture of NFL rivalries.

10) New York Giants vs. New York Jets

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    The New York Jets and New York Giants are in a battle all year long to see who will be in control of the headlines in the media mecca of New York City.

    Both teams have tasted their own share of success. Of course the Giants' success has included two wins out of the past five Super Bowls, while the Jets celebrated back-to-back appearances in the AFC Championship games. The Giants won Super Bowls XLVI and XLII, while the Jets played in the AFC Championship game in 2009 and 2010.

    This year, the Jets are in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Rex Ryan is losing control of the team. There's Mark Sanchez versus Tim Tebow and the Darrell Revis injury. The Jets are about as close to unwatchable as you can get lately. Rex Ryan refuses to bench Sanchez, and might find himself on the outside looking in next year because of it.

    The Giants are doing their best to defend their Super Bowl championship, but this is November after all, and what is a November without a Giants' swoon?

    Both teams are in the midst of a combined 0-5 losing streak, so things are not altogether rosy in Gotham right now.

    The teams usually play each other in the preseason and then will meet every fourth year when the AFC East faces the NFC East.

    The rivalry is rated No. 10 based on how few times they play for keeps. But as far as the media attention and war of words, this one is right up there.

9) San Francisco 49ers vs. Dallas Cowboys

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    The San Francisco 49ers' rivalry with the Dallas Cowboys began when these teams started becoming dominating teams in the NFC. From 1970-1997, either the Cowboys or the 49ers played in the NFC Championship game an amazing 24 times.

    During that period of time, they met each other in the NFC finale five different times for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. When you keep butting heads so many times, especially with the high stakes of what they were playing for, a rivalry is created. 

    Lately these franchises are trying to turn things around. The 49ers did appear in the NFC Championship game in 2011, but neither Dallas nor San Francisco has been to any of the past 16 Super Bowl games. Today the rivalry doesn't seem to carry the same meaning or significance it did back in the 1970s and 1980s, but these are two proud franchises with a lot of strong tradition.

8) New England Patriots vs. New York Jets

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    One of the better AFC East rivalries is between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets. While the Patriots have been one of the most dominating teams in the AFC over the past decade, the Jets have tasted some level of success by reaching the AFC Championship game in 2009 and 2010.

    The current rivalry is stoked by the likes of Rex Ryan and Wes Welker, who don't seem to have a problem sharing their opinion of the other team. Ryan loves to beat Belichick and makes no bones about it.

    From 2006-present, the Patriots hold the edge by owning a 9-4 record against the Jets in the regular season. Each team has won one postseason game against their foe in that time period as well.

    Currently the Patriots have a modest four-game win streak over the Jets in the regular season. They will have a chance to make it five straight in Week 12. The way things have been going for the Jets offense lately, it looks like the Patriots shouldn't have too much trouble extending the streak.

7) Philadelphia Eagles vs. New York Giants

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    There are plenty of great NFC East rivalries, and one feud that has been running for a long time is between the Eagles and Giants. Their rivalry has been helped out by some big plays and memorable gaffes that add some long-lasting memories and debates to the legend.

    From the Miracle at the Meadowlands to the DeSean Jackson punt return touchdown, the Eagles have come away with some last-second wins against their rivals, the New York Giants. In case you forgot, here is a link to the YouTube video of the Jackson punt return.

    What is rather interesting about this rivalry is that from 2008-2012, the teams have met 10 times. That is one playoff game and nine regular-season games. The Eagles have won eight of those past 10 games, yet it is the Giants that won two of the past five Super Bowls.

    The Eagles are still looking for their first Super Bowl. The teams will meet again in Week 17 to end the regular season. Hard to say what Philadelphia will be playing for then, or where the Giants will be with regards to trying to secure a playoff spot or home-field advantage.

6) New England Patriots vs. New York Giants

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    Two Super Bowl contests between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants in the past five  years has propelled this matchup into a top-10 rivalry. Both games were very close contests, and were filled with some memorable plays.

    The fact that Eli Manning was able to engineer a fourth-quarter rally in both games to secure a win over Tom Brady and the Patriots just adds greater acclaim for this rivalry.

    In Super Bowl XLII, Manning hit Plaxico Burress in the final minute of play to secure the 17-14 win. In Super Bowl XLVI. Manning led the winning drive in the fourth quarter to seal the 21-17 victory.

    Etched in our memory banks will be Manning scrambling in the pocket and heaving the ball up to David Tyree for the incredible helmet catch, or the long pass to Mario Manningham down the sidelines. These moments help to define the rivalry.

    While the Patriots and Giants only play each other once every four years, it is the magnitude of the Super Bowl games that propels this rivalry to top-10 status.

5) Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints

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    We all know how the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have been dominating the AFC North. Well, the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons have been doing the same thing in the NFC South.

    For the past three years it has either been New Orleans or Atlanta been atop the NFC South division, and this year Atlanta will make it four years in a row.

    Atlanta was the last team to remain undefeated in 2012, only to drop their first game of the year to New Orleans. With two great quarterbacks to lead their respective offenses in Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, both teams have the kind of prolific attacks that give them a chance to be competitive every week.

    While the Saints have experienced recent Super Bowl success by winning Super Bowl XLIV, the Falcons need to do their part and start winning some playoff games. That would help to elevate the importance and dynamics of this rivalry.

4) Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys

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    The Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins have an outstanding rivalry that has withstood the test of time. Why they are ranked at No. 4 is due to their recent run of missing the playoffs, as it takes away slightly from the relevance of the rivalry.

    Another reason why they are at No. 4 is that both teams have only been able to claim one playoff win apiece since 2000. That is a long time to go with just one playoff win for a rivalry that really matters.

    With the drafting and development of Robert Griffin III, the Redskins offense will no doubt improve as he grows into his role. The Redskins will need to supply him with some more weapons, and that will happen either in the 2013 draft or in the offseason.

    The Cowboys are a talented team that has trouble getting to the next level. Whether or not they will ever have a true football man come in and run the team is the big mystery about their future. As long as Jerry Jones remains in charge, it seems that Dallas is destined to be stuck in mediocrity.

3) New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts

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    This used to be better known as the Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady rivalry, but with Manning now in Denver, it is back to the two organizations.

    As we detailed the number of appearances that the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers made in the NFC Championship games from 1970-1987, let's look at the playoff encounters between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots.

    From 2000-present, the Colts have advanced to the AFC Championship game three times (2009, 2006 and 2003). The Patriots have gone on to the AFC Championship game six times in that time frame (2011, 2007, 2006, 2004, 2003 and 2001.

    The teams have met each other three times in the playoffs from 2000 to 2009. In 2006, the Colts beat the Patriots 38-34 and went on to win Super Bowl XLI over the Chicago Bears. In the 2003 AFC Championship game, the Patriots beat the Colts 24-14. From there they went on to defeat Carolina to win Super Bowl XXXVIII.

    Anytime that Peyton Manning and the Colts played Tom Brady and the Patriots, you knew it would be a highly competitive game led by two of the greatest quarterbacks of our era.

    Nobody knows yet how many more years Brady will continue to play, but at least the Colts know that they will be led by Andrew Luck for many years to come. They square off this weekend in Week 11 for the first time.

2) Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The reason that this rivalry isn't No. 1 is due to the fact that the Ravens franchise began in 1996 when they moved from Cleveland. Although the rivalry is completely relevant in 2012, it is due to the shorter tenure of their relationship compared to some of the longer standing rivalries that we opted for a No. 2 ranking.

    We detailed in the first four slides of the presentation all of the reasons why this rivalry is special and important.

    Just a few more details to consider about the Week 11 contest.

    The Steelers defense is top 10 across the board. The overall defense is ranked No. 1 in the NFL, as well as their pass defense. The run defense is ranked No. 5. Pittsburgh allows 19.7 points per game, which ranks them at No. 7.

    The Ravens defense has really tumbled this year due to age and injuries. They are in the bottom 10 in most categories across the board. The overall defense is No. 28, the pass defense is No. 26 and the run defense is No. 26. Baltimore allows more than 125 more yards per game than Pittsburgh does, but they only give up 2.1 more points per game. The old "bend, but don't break" defensive scheme.

    The games between Baltimore and Pittsburgh are the closest thing going to an all-out war in the NFL. If you watch them play and you start reminiscing about NFL games from the 1960s or 1970s, that is a very good comparison.

1) Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears

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    Our No. 1 rivalry goes to the Green Bay Packers versus the Chicago Bears. These NFC North rivals have played each other 185 times so far. When you play a team that many times, there is bound to be some kind of a bitter rivalry that develops over the years.

    The rivalry took on a rebirth of sorts when the two teams squared off for the NFC Championship game in 2010. That was the infamous game where Jay Cutler got hurt and the Bears fans booed him mercilessly.

    Now in 2012, the Bears and Packers are once again up there in the NFC North standings and are destined to reach the playoffs. Will they face each other again in the playoffs? That is hard to know right now, but if they do, you know that the game would be an all-out war.

    From the memorable Bears defensive stars over the years such as Dick Butkus to the talented running backs such as Gale Sayers and Walter Payton, Chicago has been a franchise rich in tradition.

    The Packers of course had their early run at the Super Bowl titles with Vince Lombardi. Green Bay is referred to as Titletown due to winning 13 NFL championships. The Packers have captured four Super Bowl wins out of five tries. From Bart Starr to Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have been blessed with some great franchise quarterbacks.

    They will meet again in Week 15, which could very well settle which teams wins the NFC North in 2012.