The Ravens and the Steelers renew the hardest-hitting rivalry in the NFL on Sunday night. The winner of this game -- with all apologies to the surprising Cincinnati Bengals -- will be in the driver's seat in the AFC North.
If you have lived vicariously through the Ravens over the past decade and a half, you know what it's like to be inside this rivalry. But if you're a newbie, Kevin Van Valkenburg wrote an interesting piece about it Sunday.
As Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said, Ravens-Steelers is second to only the Super Bowl. He might be a bit biased, but here are five storylines to follow in the biggest game of the regular season for both teams.
1. This isn't your older brother's Ravens-Steelers rivalry. As the NFL has continued to evolve into a pass-heavy league, the Ravens and Steelers -- who have always been smashmouth, run-oriented teams -- have embraced the movement. The Ravens used the shotgun and spread out the Arizona Cardinals in last Sunday's comeback win and the Steelers threw 50 passes to beat the New England Patriots. Don't worry, we will still see handoffs, hard hits and great plays made on defense. And the Heinz Field scoreboard isn't going to get lit up unless there are a lot of turnovers. But this game won't look like the ones we saw two or three years ago.
2. Who will win the turnover battle? The difference for the Ravens in their 35-7 Week 1 win over the Steelers was that they forced a team-record seven turnovers and didn't give the ball away once. Don't count on the Ravens getting seven takeaways this time around, but ball security could again be the difference when these two teams meet. To win Sunday, Joe Flacco needs to keep the ball off the grass and out of Pittsburgh's hands.
3. The play of the offensive line will be huge. After being scrutinized all preseason, the big guys up front got it done against the Steelers in Week 1. They paved the way for Ray Rice to pass the century mark on the ground and surrendered only one sack. But Ben Grubbs suffered a toe injury in that game and hasn't played since. He will be a game-time decision Sunday night, as will Steelers sack specialist James Harrison. LaMarr Woodley has already been ruled out. Advantage Ravens there. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will attempt to pressure Flacco into mistakes with Xs and Os. The offensive line must give Flacco time to decipher them.
4. The Ravens secondary will be tested. While praising Antonio Brown this week, Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb slighted Mike Wallace, who has developed into one of the best receivers in the NFL. Whether that was intentional or not, Webb does have a point: Ben Roethlisberger has more than just Wallace to choose from. Brown is a dangerous deep threat, too. Emmanuel Sanders is a solid young receiver. And Hines Ward, who should play Sunday night, is still a handful in the red zone. If Baltimore's pass rush can't topple Big Ben, Webb and his fellow cornerbacks will be forced to cover for precious extra seconds. Will they hold up?
5. Will Ray Rice have room to run? Rice rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown in the Week 1 victory over the Steelers, who don't allow more than 100 rushing yards very often. But in his three games against the Steelers a year ago, he totaled just 84 yards on the ground. Pittsburgh will try to make Rice a non-factor and put the pressure on Flacco. Baltimore has to keep Rice heavily involved, though, even if he gets off to a slow start.