Is this really the last regular season matchup between the Ravens and Steelers this season? We're less than a week into November, for cryin' out loud.
It'll be a little strange seeing these two teams square off for the second time in 2011 while the Ravens have yet to face either the Browns or the Bengals once, but even though this game is too early to determine playoff positioning or a division crown, it still carries some weight to it.
With a win in Pittsburgh on Sunday night, the Ravens would take back first place in the AFC North and hold the tiebreaker over the Steelers, meaning Pittsburgh would need to finish with a superior record to win the division. That's a lot at stake for a Week 9 game.
Here's how these two teams match up statistically going into this primetime battle:
Ravens: 341.0 yards per game (14th)
Steelers: 388.8 yards per game (9th)
Ravens: 107.0 ypg (19th)
Steelers: 115.4 ypg (14th)
Ravens: 234.0 ypg (15th)
Steelers: 273.4 ypg (8th)
Ravens: 263.3 ypg (1st)
Steelers: 270.8 ypg (2nd)
Ravens: 89.1 ypg (3rd)
Steelers: 99.1 ypg (8th)
Ravens: 174.1 ypg (3rd)
Steelers: 171.6 ypg (1st)
Ravens: +3 (t-9th)
Steelers: -10 (32nd)
First of all, how about that turnover ratio for Pittsburgh? You sure don't expect the Steelers to sport the worst turnover margin in the league when they've got Dick LeBeau's opportunistic defense out there.
One other interesting trend evident in the numbers above is that while both of these teams have traditionally featured run-first offensive styles, they both seem to be leaning more toward the pass this season.
Pittsburgh obviously has a top-tier quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, and they've developed a fast, deep receiving corps led by Mike Wallace, who, despite what Lardarius Webb says, has become one of the top wideouts in the league. Second-year speedster Antonio Brown has stepped up this year, as well, but behind him, Pittsburgh has injury concerns, as both Hines Ward and Emmanuel Sanders could miss Sunday night's game.
Roethlisberger has benefited from an improved Pittsburgh offensive line, and he's been on fire the last four weeks, throwing 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions in that time.
The onus will be on Baltimore's defense to avoid the big play and keep Wallace and Brown from getting behind the secondary. That needs to be Priority No. 1 this week.
Defensively, we've discussed how Pittsburgh could be without three of its four starting linebackers in James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and James Farrior. If those guys are held out due to injury, the Steelers will have to make some significant adjustments, but they've still got enough talent and depth across their defense to have success.
Need proof? Without Woodley and Farrior last week, Pittsburgh allowed just 17 points to the dangerous Patriots offense. Not too shabby.
The Steelers have been very strong against the pass this year, but their rushing defense has dropped a bit from previous seasons. Ravens running back Ray Rice had 107 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries back in the Week 1 matchup between these two teams, and it will be interesting to see if offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will again feed Rice a steady dose of the rock on Sunday night.
Overall, this is a tough game for me to judge. Given the Steelers' injuries and the way Baltimore outplayed its rivals so thoroughly back in the season opener, part of me is inclined to pick the Ravens to earn the win and the season sweep Sunday.
On the other hand, Pittsburgh's offense has really been clicking of late, the Ravens have had two straight mediocre performances (to put it nicely), and the game will be played at Heinz Field, where Baltimore has only one win in its last six contests.
You've got to have nearly a complete performance to win in the Steel City, and I don't think the Ravens will get that. I've wavered on this pick the last couple days, but put me down for a 24-20 Steelers win.
What about you? Do you think the Ravens can respond from two rough outings against sub-par competition and pick up the season sweep of their rivals? Or will the Steelers bounce back from that Week 1 whipping and even things up?
Who you got?