The Pittsburgh Steelers’ win over the New York Jets last week puts more juice into the first Ravens Week of the 2013 season.
Had the Steelers started 0-5, their only motivation Sunday would have been to stick their biggest rival with a loss that could come back to haunt them when they’re fighting for a playoff spot.
Now, a win over the Ravens would improve the Steelers’ record to 2-4, and they’d no longer be facing lottery-like odds to make the playoffs.
It’s still too early, however, for the Steelers to think about the playoffs. They have to go 9-2, maybe 8-3, the rest of the way to have any shot at playing in January.
For now, the Steelers still have to think like spoilers.
The Steelers would pull to within a half-game of the Ravens with a win Sunday and make the Ravens’ path to the Super Bowl more difficult.
They’d also make it clear that the Ravens are suffering from a Super Bowl hangover.
After watching the Steelers win Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII, the Ravens finally have a recent Lombardi Trophy they can call their own. But if they really want to be like the Steelers, Super Bowl hangovers come with the territory.
The Steelers failed to make the playoffs the year after winning those two Super Bowls. They started the 2006 season 2-6 and lost five in a row in 2009 to sink their playoff hopes during a disappointing 9-7 season.
The Ravens are teetering on the brink of a Super Bowl hangover. They’re 3-3 and coming off a loss at home to the Green Bay Packers, whose 18th-ranked defense held them to three points for more than three quarters.
None of the Ravens’ wins have been impressive. They beat the Cleveland Browns 14-6 at home in Week 2 and the Houston Texans 30-9 at home in Week 3. The victory over Houston seemed like a quality win at the time, but it was the first of four straight losses for the 2-4 Texans.
Baltimore also defeated Miami 26-23 on the road in Week 5, the second loss in a row for the Dolphins after a 3-0 start.
A major factor in the Ravens’ malaise has been their offensive line.
Even if the Steelers were still winless, the rubbernecking curiosity of an offensive line worse than theirs would be a draw for this game.
That’s right. After four games, Pro Football Focus ranked the Ravens’ offensive line last in the NFL, and the Steelers’ 15th.
Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 18 times, but Joe Flacco has been sacked 19 times. The Super Bowl XLVII MVP has thrown seven touchdown passes and eight interceptions this season.
Not only has the Ravens’ offensive line failed to protect Flacco, it hasn’t opened holes for Ray Rice. The three-time Pro Bowler has run for at least 1,100 yards and averaged at least 4.4 yards per carry every year since 2009. In five games this season, however, he has just 197 yards and has gained 2.8 yards per carry.
While it’s a down year for Rice, another Steelers’ tormentor from Baltimore is as menacing as he’s ever been.
Terrell Suggs is fourth in the NFL with seven sacks. As a team, the Ravens are third in the league with 22 sacks.
So it won’t exactly be a picnic for the Steelers’ offensive line.
Xs and Os analysis and number crunching don’t do much good in predicting a Ravens-Steelers game. How historically even are these rivals? Seven of the last nine games between the teams have been decided by three points. The Steelers and Ravens are both 10-10 in their 20 meetings since Roethlisberger became the Steelers’ starting quarterback in 2004.
Games between these teams can go either way. If the Ravens defeat the Steelers Sunday, they’ll be 4-3 (2-0 in the AFC North) and feeling pretty good about themselves heading into their bye week. It might be enough to beat that Super Bowl hangover.
The Steelers can’t let that happen.