Both teams sit at 5-6 and on the precipice of earning the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff race. The 5-6 Tennessee Titans currently own that spot purely because of their win over Pittsburgh in Week 1.
With both teams properly motivated, this is shaping up to be a classic contest between two teams known for playing low-scoring games full of bone-crunching hits.
Here are a few things you can expect to see tonight.
At Least 1 Player Will Be Carted off on a Stretcher
Remember this collision between Willis McGahee and Ryan Clark during the AFC Championship Game in 2009?
Bill Simmons assessed the state of this rivalry on Grantland:
The further away we get from that 2011 playoff game, the more apparent it becomes this was The Last Great Hard-Hitting Game before the Concussion Awareness era kicked in. Remember how many dudes got knocked out or wobbled in that one? We'll never see another football game like it.
Sure, the rules might have changed and James Harrison may no longer be doing things like this to scrambling quarterbacks while wearing black and gold, but there is no reason to believe this game will not feature at least one bloody nose or broken bone.
The Game Will Be Decided by Field Goals, Not Touchdowns
The Steelers narrowly edged out the Ravens in their first meeting earlier this season, winning 19-16 in a game that featured two touchdowns between both teams.
Basically, don’t expect any offensive explosions here.
In Simmons' column, he pointed out that nine of the last 12 games between these two teams have been decided by three points. Two of those other three games were won by a margin of four and seven points, with the outlier being that 28-point Ravens blowout two years ago.
Neither of these two teams is an offensive powerhouse. Even with aging defenses, I would not expect these squads to combine for more than, say, 40 points. And that is generous.
Big Ben Will Be Under Duress All Day
To be fair, Pittsburgh’s offensive line has played much better since that dismal 0-4 start. Fernando Velasco has ably filled in for injured center Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro has emerged as a legitimate enforcer at right guard.
But this is still a line that has allowed Big Ben to be sacked 37 times this season. Now it will be facing the likes of Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata, two players who have spent years terrorizing Big Ben.
Of course, no quarterback in the NFL is as evasive as Pittsburgh’s ace. Expect Big Ben to bust out a few big plays despite being harassed all day by Baltimore’s defensive line.
Joe Flacco Will Have His Best Game of the Season
I have no statistics to prove this and I am more than aware of how much Joe Flacco has not played like a quarterback with a $120.6 million contract.
But hear me out.
Flacco is clutch. Like, Joe Montana clutch. It does not always manifest itself during the regular season, but it never fails during the postseason and every time he plays the Steelers.
The Steelers and Ravens tend to bring out the best in each other, and this matchup should be no different. Expect far fewer mistakes from Flacco and at least one “How the hell did he manage that?!” completion to either Torrey Smith or Jacoby Jones.
The Game Will Come Down to a Final Drive
Flacco and Big Ben are masters of stringing together immaculate drives with time ticking down in the fourth quarter. The Oct. 20 matchup ended with Big Ben engineering a seven-play, 39-yard drive that led to a 42-yard Shaun Suisham field goal with three seconds left on the clock.
Chances are tonight’s game will end in a similar fashion.
Logic dictates that, since the Steelers and Ravens tend to split their season series more often than not, it will be Flacco stringing together that game-winning drive.
But—and this may be the Steelers fan in me talking—I honestly think the Steelers are the better team in this particular matchup. Objectively, I would take the team that has won five of its last seven games (Steelers) over the one that has lost four of its last six (Ravens) any day.
Big Ben is playing better than Flacco right now, Le’Veon Bell looks like LaDainian Tomlinson compared to Ray Rice this season and the Steel Curtain is finally playing like it wants to make the playoffs.
Final Score: Steelers 20, Ravens 17
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