OWINGS MILLS — It needs no hype, loud carnival barker or breathless exaggeration from the usual myth makers.
The Baltimore Ravens’ blood rivalry with the Pittsburgh Steelers traditionally speaks for itself in the form of bone-crushing hits, murderous threats and enough blue language to eclipse even the meanest drill sergeant.
When it comes to football, the Ravens and the Steelers definitely qualify as the genuine article: two proud franchises intent on bashing each other into submission twice per year.
“There’s nothing to hype about this game,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “This is definitely the biggest rivalry in football. This is the biggest and most physical game in football. It’s a championship week. It’s Baltimore against Pittsburgh.”
And this latest installment of the series should be amped up to another level considering the high stakes and the quality of both teams this year. The Ravens (8-3) and Steelers (8-3) will be vying for supremacy in the AFC North during Sunday night’s pivotal showdown at M&T Bank Stadium.
It’s undoubtedly the biggest game of the Ravens’ season.
“There is a lot at stake,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Whoever wins does take control of the division. The other team will have to catch up with them in some form or fashion. It gives you an opportunity to use some things in the playoffs.”
A victory for Baltimore would propel them toward a one-game edge in terms of record and the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Steelers if they finish the season with identical records.
With their ownership of a rare win over the Steelers earlier this season at Heinz Field, the Ravens have the chance to sweep the annual series for the first time since the 2006 season.
“It ain’t just Pittsburgh, it’s very hard to sweep a team in the NFL,” Suggs said. “But it has been done, it can be done. We’ll be ready to play the game on Sunday night. No game is won on paper.”
The Ravens are hoping to earn at least one home playoff game. And home-field advantage throughout the playoffs isn’t out of their grasp with a strong finish and some help from other teams.
Beginning Sunday night, the Ravens play three of their final five games at home where they’re undefeated this season in five games and own the longest current winning streak in the NFL with eight consecutive wins.
“It doesn’t get any better,” middle linebacker Ray Lewis. “You go around the NFL, you go around the AFC and you see where we’re sitting at right now. We’re in the perfect position. We control our own destiny.”
In franchise history, the Ravens have been in position to sweep the Steelers four other times and failed to do so.
Besides the Ravens and the Steelers, Monday night’s game is headlined by the New York Jets’ clash against the New England Patriots.
“This is probably the biggest week in football with us playing the Steelers and the Jets playing New England,” Suggs said. “So, everybody’s going to be tuned in.”
Unlike the Ravens’ first game against the Steelers, a narrow 17-14 win on Oct. 3 decided by a Joe Flacco touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Pittsburgh will have its starting quarterback available.
Suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the NFL personal conduct policy, Ben Roethlisberger is expected to play despite a sprained foot suffered during an overtime win Sunday over the Buffalo Bills.
“We’ll game plan for Ben being in there,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll prepare for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense and prepare for the possibilities at quarterback, but I’m assuming Ben will be there.”
During the season, Harbaugh rarely ventures outside of the Ravens’ training complex other than to return home to see his family. So, he hasn’t interacted with fans this week to discuss the rivalry.
He’s very aware of what this game means to Baltimore, though.
“I know the fans I come across, they talk about this game all the time,” Harbaugh said. “It seems like it’s the most important game to the Ravens’ fans. They’re our archrival, and I don’t know what more you need to say than that.
“It’s a very intense game. It’s a very physical game. It’s a little bit different than the other games we play. We love playing them. We look forward to it. We can’t wait to line up.”