The Baltimore Ravens must make the playoffs this season after missing the past four of the last five years. In three of those missed seasons, Baltimore has been in playoff contention entering late December and being eliminated in Weeks 16 or 17. Two of those was to earn a wild-card berth, including last year when they were one play away from heading to Kansas City. The other was two years ago when they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers and lost out on a chance to win the division as well as being eliminated completely.
Speaking of the division, that title has now eluded Baltimore for the past five years. Since the formation of the AFC North in 2002 from the old AFC Central, the Ravens have won the division on four separate occasions. The longest the team had gone not winning the division was the four-year stretch from 2007-2010, before this current five-year drought. The Ravens have watched as the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers have taken the division, with the Steelers winning it in three of the last four years.
When it comes to the Ravens and Steelers rivalry right now, Baltimore finds itself in a position they haven’t really been in for a while: chasing the Steelers. From 2011-2015, Baltimore was 8-3 against Pittsburgh, including a playoff win in Heinz Field in 2014 despite the Steelers winning the division. Baltimore also swept Pittsburgh in 2011 and 2015. The Steelers are now 3-1 against Baltimore over the last two years and swept the Ravens in 2017 for the first time since 2008. That was Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh’s rookie year. One of the primary reasons for the Steelers recent success against Baltimore has been the play of their amazing offense. Especially the last two times they’ve met in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers offense scored 70 points in those games and their big three have haunted the Ravens defense. Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for 785 yards and eight touchdown passes. Le’Veon Bell has scored five touchdowns and Antonio Brown has notched 21 receptions for 309 receiving yards and the infamous touchdown to clinch the division for the Steelers in 2016. Oddly enough, the Ravens offense produced their own success in those games as well, scoring 65 points, with Joe Flacco passing for 531 yards and three touchdowns. Alex Collins had his coming out party last year against the Steelers on Sunday Night Football by rushing for 120 yards and a touchdown.
What was disappointing about their last meeting was the fact that Baltimore rebuilt the secondary and focused a lot on the defense that off-season because of what happened on Christmas night in 2016. A huge factor however on both occasions, was the absence of cornerback Jimmy Smith, who played in their first matchup last year where Pittsburgh won 26-9, mainly due to the struggles of Baltimore’s offense. Smith held Brown to four receptions.
This offseason, general manager Ozzie Newsome is now attempting to rebuild the receiving unit and hoping the offense continues their momentum they left off over the final two months of the season when they were only second to the New England Patriots in points scored. While the Ravens offense mainly brings in a new core, the Steelers offense will be ready to go as always with virtually the same group of players. Defensively, Baltimore holds the advantage as Pittsburgh searches for help in the middle of the field at linebacker. The Steelers still have a good group of young players on defense, such as Cameron Hayward, Stephon Tuitt, and T.J. Watt.
The bottom line for the Ravens is they have to keep pace with Pittsburgh during the regular season and not get swept again. They have to find a way to beat the Steelers in Heinz Field, which they’ve come so close to doing recently. The Ravens are no stranger to success via the wild-card, but winning the division and getting a home playoff game adds extra juice. The Steelers and their Super Bowl ready team are a huge mountain to climb.