Jimmy Smith called it a “classic rivalry.” Pernell McPhee called it the most physical rivalry in the league. And Calais Campbell, who has watched plenty of Ravens-Steelers games throughout the years as a neutral observer, said it is the biggest rivalry in professional sports and added, “I’m happy to finally be in it.”
Welcome to what Ravens players, coaches and fans refer to simply as “Steeler Week.”
The Ravens host their AFC North archrival Pittsburgh Steelers this coming Sunday, Nov. 1, at 1 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium in the first of their two 2020 meetings, and as usual, this one comes with major playoff implications.
The Steelers (6-0) come to Baltimore as the league’s last undefeated team, while the Ravens (5-1), riding a three-game winning streak, will either claim first place in the AFC North or fall two games behind. The teams will do it all over again on Thanksgiving night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
These teams have won the AFC North title in eight of the past 10 years, with the Ravens capturing the past two.
“It’s that high school rivalry, that team you want so badly to beat,” said Smith, who has played in 10 Ravens-Steelers games during his 10-year career, going 7-3. “I can’t really explain the feeling of being in that game.”
“I definitely would say that the Ravens and the Steelers is … the best rivalry game I’ve played in in the NFL,” added McPhee, who has faced the Steelers nine times. McPhee spent three years with the Chicago Bears after leaving the Ravens in 2015, so he played in a half-dozen games between the Bears and Green Bay Packers, considered another of the NFL’s great rivalries.
“That conference ain’t physical like the AFC North,” McPhee said, adding that this week’s game would be “a fistfight from play 1 to … the last play.”
Smith called this rivalry, “the most physical game we play, both sides of the ball, every year, no matter what the records say.”
This week’s Ravens-Steelers game was shifted by a week because of a schedule reshuffling related to the COVID-19 outbreak on the Tennessee Titans. Instead of being played Oct. 25 as originally scheduled, the game was bumped a week later, giving the Ravens a bye the week before. The Steelers, meanwhile, had their bye shifted to Week 4 and are coming off a 27-24 win at previously undefeated Tennessee.
Head coach John Harbaugh said he wasn’t looking at it that way.
“You have byes, you don’t have byes. … The schedule is what it is,” said Harbaugh, whose team is 10-2 coming off the regular-season bye week in his career.
Regardless of where this game falls on the calendar, Smith said, “This game is the No. 1, circled-red-dot game for us.”
It should come as no surprise that the overall series is close, with the Steelers leading 25-23 (including 3-1 in the playoffs). The Ravens, though, own a 14-13 edge under Harbaugh and won both meetings last year against a short-handed Steelers team that had lost starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a season-ending elbow injury in Week 2.
The Ravens won 26-23 in overtime last year in Week 5 and then won 28-10 at M&T Bank Stadium in the regular-season finale. That lopsided score — a game in which several Ravens starters including quarterback Lamar Jackson sat out to rest up or the playoffs — was something of an anomaly; seven of the last 10 Ravens-Steelers games have been decided by seven points or less.
Of the 27 games played in the Harbaugh era, more than half (14) have been decided by three points or less, including four that went to overtime.
“This is the game that they say, ‘You’re not really a Raven until you play against the Steelers,'” Campbell said. “So I’m looking forward to the opportunity. It’s going to be a great game.”
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