Last Sunday, the Steelers exacted their first measure of revenge against Tom Brady's Patriots in quite some time. About seven years, actually. Similarly, the Ravens, who had been tormented by the Steelers for the past five years (at least when a backup QB wasn't starting for Pittsburgh), finally got some payback of their own in Week 1.
In both cases, I wouldn't say the long-dominated team has gotten the monkey off their back as much as made more interesting what have been one-sided recent rivalries. The Patriots have still gotten the Steelers when it has mattered most, and the Steelers still own every critical matchup there is to own against the Ravens.
The Ravens could earn only their second-ever regular season sweep of the Steelers on Sunday in Heinz Field. Or they could suffer a loss that would almost effectively negate all the good feelings of the Week 1 drubbing at M&T Bank Stadium. A Baltimore loss wouldn't exactly wrap up the division for the Steelers, but it would show yet again that Baltimore can't win the one they really truly need to against Pittsburgh. It would also drop them a game back (the lack of the Steelers' bye muddies things a bit) and lose them their tiebreaker advantage, as all the Ravens' losses have come against conference opponents. It would also engender more and more serious doubts about whether Joe Flacco is in fact a franchise quarterback.
Suffice it to say, a Baltimore loss makes Week 1 look like a fluke, like the 41-0 lambasting that Buffalo gave to New England the opening week of 2003. It makes it look more like the upshot of an early season upended by the lockout's scheduling chaos.
But a Ravens victory? Well, that makes matters more interesting. I don't think it quite equals the Steelers being 3-0 in the postseason against a division rival, but it would let Ravens fans look less pathetic than they do beating their chest unremittingly about one September regular season blowout.
Baltimore has a knack for catching the Steelers at the right time in terms of injuries. Obviously, the fact that three times within fours years, they got to face a starting QB who wasn't Ben Roethlisberger was a luxury. Sunday, the Steelers will likely take the field sans James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and James Farrior. The two best players in their front seven and a key Pro Bowl veteran middle linebacker. The Steelers will have to make do, as they have in recent weeks, but it'll be tough. Imagine the Ravens trying to win without Suggs, Ray-Ray and Ngata in the lineup. They'd be a little concerned, too.
That said, Haloti Ngata is banged up and may not play, which evens matters considerably. He's the best player on the Ravens' defense by a significant margin. He's also given Maurkice Pouncey some serious problems so far in the young center's career. So having Ngata out or even hampered by injury would be a huge plus. It would also opens things up nicely for the running game.
You could argue that Harrison, Woodley and Farrior all played Week 1 and it didn't make for a whole lot of good. That is true, to an extent. The Steelers were playing much less aggressive defense early in the season, much to their detriment. if anything, those injuries might end up benefitting this Steelers season in the long run, because it's made Dick LeBeau make serious evaluations and in some cases radically change long-entrenched schemes. Woodley has been incredible since Deebo went out of the lineup. That's evident even without the Defensive Player of the Month honors he earned this week.
It's not only the play of the Steelers defense that has improved markedly in recent weeks. The offensive line may not be stellar, but it's far from the disaster that it was. Max Starks, while not great, has been a welcome replacement for Jonathan Scott. I don't expect Starks to have a great showing against Suggs, but I think he'll make P-Drizzle work for his pressures a lot more than Scott. That Ben Roethlisberger has hit his stride in terms of accuracy after early season falters should give the offense much more confidence.
Speaking of epic mouthbreather Suggs, the fact that he was back to running his mouth this week gave me a lot of comfort. I realize the sideshow means nothing, but it's good to see nonethless. The Ravens were disturbingly quiet before Week 1. Very uncharacteristic. Now? They're back to their usual stupid antics and bold proclamations before a trip to Heinz Field. If Baltimore's stoicism before Week 1 helped catch the Steelers overconfident and complacent, well, it won't this time.
I don't at all expect the Ravens to come in flat, as they did against Jacksonville and in the first half against Arizona. They know what's at stake. Hell, they've probably been looking ahead to this game. And that's fine. I wouldn't expect any less. No doubt the Steelers have a huge amount of pride at stake after the loss and all the fighting that happened on the field back in Baltimore.
Obviously Timmons is going to have to have a huge game, as if Worilds if he can actually go. Not sure what you can expect from Sylvester and Carter other than hopefully they keep to the running lanes when Ray Rice gets the ball. There was a pretty big drop-off in pressure on Tom Brady after Woodley left the game last week, and that's concerning, but I think a few players, as well as LeBeau will rise to the occasion. Don't be surprised to see Troy Polamalu sent after the QB on a few plays. Who knows? After last year, Joe Flacco might actually see it coming.
The one annoying thing about the win over the Patriots was all the knee-jerk dipshit commentators, who back in September gleefully dismissed the Steelers as old and busted and done, reversed course immediately. WELP! GUESS THE STEELERS AREN'T OLD ANYMORE. A-DERP-A-DERP. As much as last Sunday's win did to chase away those doubts, a win over Baltimore eradicates them entirely.