RSR’s Mike Fast continues his countdown of the top 10 Ravens games of 2016. The No. 1 game is the second against the black and yellow in his Top 3.
Top 10 Games of 2016: No. 10 – Week 13 vs. Dolphins
Top 10 Games of 2016: No. 9 – Week 7 at New York Jets
Top 10 Games of 2016: No. 8 – Week 11 at Dallas
Top 10 Games of 2016: No. 7 – Week 1 vs. Bills
Top 10 Games of 2016: No. 6 – Week 10 vs. Browns
Top 10 Games of 2016: No. 5 – Week 12 vs. Bengals
Top 10 Games of 2016: No. 4 – Week 17 at Bengals
Top 10 Games of 2016: No. 3 – Week 9 vs. Steelers
Top 10 Games of 2016: No. 3 – Week 14 at Patriots
Week 16: Ravens at Steelers
All-time record against (regular season and playoffs): 20-24 (19-21, 1-3)
Most recent game: Ravens 20, Steelers 17 (December 27, 2015)
Significance: Whenever the Ravens play in Pittsburgh, I consider that game to be the biggest of the year.
Going into the house of your fiercest and most-familiar foe, especially in Week 16, is something that requires immense passion and courage. Passion to supersede pain and fatigue. Courage to risk your entire season when the stakes are highest and the margin of error is smallest.
When the Ravens play the Steelers on Christmas Day, the winner could very well be crowned the AFC North champion. Besides bragging rights, that victory would also include a guaranteed home playoff game, and potentially a first-round bye. That bye would be especially welcomed by Baltimore, because although they’ve won 10 of their 15 playoff games under John Harbaugh’s leadership, the Ravens have only played two of those 15 playoff games at home.
Baltimore did sweep Pittsburgh last year, but both games were decided by three points. To have so much riding on a game that, historically, has been decided by such narrow margins will add significant anxiety to the fold.
Which team will be the pressure? Which team will be the pipe?
Joe Flacco vs. James Harrison
I’d venture to say each of these players is the player that each opposing fan base dislikes the most. Unfortunately for the fans, both of these players are very good at what they do.
James Harrison is a physical freak with a nasty streak. He’s not just a brute, though. He gets football. He’s been the defensive Hines Ward for many years, in that, while he aggravates Baltimore fans to no end, his performance against the Ravens merits high praise.
In 16 games against the Ravens in which he’s registered a statistic, Harrison has recorded 91 tackles and 14 sacks. And, for whatever reason, his sacks seem to come at the worst possible time for Baltimore.
Joe Flacco has been no slouch in this rivalry, himself. Besides his games at Denver and in Super Bowl XLVII during the 2012 playoff run, I believe his best performance was this 92-yard, two-minute, game-winning drive in Pittsburgh in 2011. That evening, Flacco threw for 300 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions.
He hit Torrey Smith for what would’ve been the go-ahead touchdown, after leading his team down the field from what was practically his own end zone. Smith dropped it, but Flacco dropped a dime as he went right back to Smith four plays later for the game-winner.
In all games, but especially in this game, not turning the ball over is paramount. Whether it’s Harrison attempting a strip-sack or Flacco fitting the ball into a tight, closing window, taking care of the football will be of utmost importance.
In games against the Steelers since 2008 (when Harbaugh and Flacco joined the organization), the Ravens have gone 10-9 with a turnover ratio of plus-11 (37-26).
The players vs. the flags
Players from both teams know what this game is about. Physicality and force are prerequisites, but restraint is necessary, too. Officials are prompted to be on the lookout for excessive hits, hits after the whistle, or anything else that might spark a major incident.
Therefore, it’s incumbent upon the players to approach this game with that knowledge. Officials don’t want to throw flags, but what they want to do less is to see such a pivotal game get out of hand on their watch.
Regardless of which team you root for, you can’t deny that the officials that have officiated the last few games in this series have been very fair. In the 2015 calendar year, the Ravens and Steelers played three times. In those games, the Ravens were penalized 18 times for a total of 165 yards (or, a per game average of six penalties for 55 yards). The Steelers were penalized 15 times for a total of 159 yards (or, a per game average of five penalties for 53 yards).
Even the infractions between these two teams are closely contested.
Prediction: Steelers 21, Ravens 17