I consider it the best rivalry in the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens are almost mirror images of each other. The both play with an attitude and swagger that gets under their opponents' skin. Most of all, both teams are tough and have a very tough persona.
Despite the Ravens only being in the league since 1996, they are technically the real Cleveland Browns. The Brown moved to Baltimore in 1996 and became the Ravens. So it's only fitting that the Ravens are the Steelers' biggest rivals.
The teams hate each other for obvious reasons. They both play the same style of football, they both run the 3-4 defense and they both consider themselves the toughest team in the NFL.
The best thing about this rivalry is that both teams have been realistic contenders for the last few years. In 2008 the teams met three times, including the AFC Championship Game. The Steelers won all three meetings in dramatic fashion.
The 2008 AFC Championship game between the two teams was one of the most brutal, hard-fought games I've ever witnessed. Multiple big hits were delivered and a few players left the game with serious injuries. It was old-school football, to say the least. I witnessed Limas Sweed destroy a Ravens defender on a blindsided block. The biggest hit of the game was when Ryan Clark absolutely crushed Willis McGahee. One of the most vicious hits I've ever seen. That's the beauty, though—big hits are a part of the game, despite whatever the NFL wants you to believe.
In Week 4 this year, the Ravens came to Pittsburgh and handed the Steelers their first loss of the season in dramatic fashion. The Steelers failed to convert a third down and Joe Flacco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh hooked up for a game-winning touchdown. The Steelers ended the game on a Charlie Batch interception. Batch was playing because Ben Roethlisberger was serving his four-game suspension.
The two teams met again in December in Baltimore. The only word to describe the game is ugly. It was the usual blood bath, a hard-hitting game decided late in the fourth quarter. The story of the game was Roethlisberger, who was playing with a broken bone in his foot, and a broken nose that he suffered on the first possession of the game. Ben didn't play great, but he made some big plays when the team needed him to.
More importantly, Ben sent a message to his teammates and Steelers fans by playing through the pain.
The biggest play of the game was a forced fumble by Troy Polamalu. The play pretty much sums up how great of a player Troy is. The Ravens ran a play-action pass and Troy blitzed quarterback Joe Flacco. Instead of trying to tackle the big QB, Troy knocked the ball out of Flacco's hand. The Steelers recovered the fumble and went on to score a touchdown and win the game.
Now thanks to a win over the Chiefs, the Ravens will be coming to Heinz Field for the second time this year. It's only fitting that these two teams meet in the playoffs and for a third time this year.
I'm sure this Saturday the game will live up to the expectations. The winner of the game will be just one game away from the Super Bowl. The Steelers have other storied rivalries, but Ravens-Steelers is special right now. It's not a game for the lighthearted. It's going to be physical. It's going to be a blood bath.
I expect it to be an instant classic.