The Ravens didn’t do the Steelers any favors with the playoffs on the line over the past two seasons.
In 2018, Baltimore beat the Browns in the regular-season final that clinched an AFC North title and knocked Pittsburgh out of the postseason.
Last season, the Ravens had their playoff seeding wrapped up and played mostly backups in the finale but still beat the Steelers 28-18, knocking Pittsburgh out of the playoff again.
Fittingly for the tumultuous 2020, the roles are reversed and now the Steelers hold some of the keys to the Ravens’ playoff fate.
Baltimore (9-5) holds the eighth spot in the seven-team playoff race in the AFC. The Ravens need either No. No. 5. Cleveland (10-4), No. 6. Indianapolis (10-4) and No. 7 Miami (9-5) to lose one of their final two games to overtake them in the postseason.
This is where the Steelers enter the picture.
Pittsburgh (11-3) hosts the Colts in Week 16 and then finishes on the road against the Browns. A Steelers victory in either of those games coupled with a Ravens victory would shake up the playoff seedings.
Unfortunately for Baltimore, the Steelers are playing their worst football of the season. After opening the season with 11 straight wins, Pittsburgh is mired in a three-game losing streak and have fallen to the No. 3 spot in the playoff behind Buffalo.
“We’re not a good football group right now,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said after the team’s 27-17 loss to the Bengals on Monday night.
The Ravens own the tie-breaker against the Colts by virtue of their 24-10 victory in Week 9. Indianapolis (10-4) has won four of its past five games and needs to keep winning to try and win the AFC South from the Titans (10-4), who finish the year on the road against the Packers and Texans.
Baltimore swept Cleveland this season and own the tie-breaker. The Browns, however, are determined to end an 18-year playoff drought and have their eyes on a potential AFC North title in that final matchup with Pittsburgh in Week 17. Cleveland won’t be taking the Jets lightly this week.
The Dolphins own the tie-breaker against the Ravens because they have a better conference record. Some pundits expected Miami to lose to New England in Week 15, but the Dolphins emerged with a 22-12 win. Miami closes out the season against the faltering Raiders and then the Bills, who might be able to rest their starters in that final game.
The Ravens close out the year as heavy favorites at home against the New York Giants and Bengals, who knocked Baltimore out of the playoffs in the 2017 regular-season finale.
Don’t expect the Ravens to slip. They know there’s no margin for error.
However, the coaches and players will have to cheer for Pittsburgh over the next two weeks.
“Of course, we want to get into the playoffs,” Harbaugh said about supporting the Steelers. “So, we know that we need some help, but the focus, really, for us, is going to be on taking care of our business. It doesn’t matter what anybody else does if we don’t take care of our job, and our job is to win.
“So, we’ve got to find a way to win this week – that’s 100% exactly what we’ll be locked in on and focused on. Everything else is not something that we can control, but we can control how we play. We need to play our best football next week to win that game.”