These are unfamiliar days in the AFC North.
The Steelers, long a powerhouse in the division, are 1-4 and in last place. They didn’t get their first win of the season until last week.
The Ravens, winners of the past two division crowns and last year’s Super Bowl, are tied for second place with the Cleveland Browns at an even 3-3.
Both teams are adjusting after a changing of the guard on defense. They’re both struggling to run the ball, once the staple of old-school Baltimore and Pittsburgh football.
But despite all that, both sides attest that what is considered one of the best rivalries in all of football hasn’t lost its luster. In fact, Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh might be even more high stakes than usual.
“I don’t think records are as important in this game from an intensity standpoint,” Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin said. “If nothing else, I think it heightens it. There’s a certain sense of urgency based on the position that the teams are in I’m sure.”
The Steelers could climb back into the playoff picture with a win. The Ravens have never been below .500 after seven games during Head Coach John Harbaugh’s era and don’t want to start now.
“It’s big. It’s big. It’s Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a game that we’ve longed for, all of us here in Baltimore. … It should be a heck of a battle.”
The two teams rarely play anything but a closely contested game against each other.
Dating back to 2008 when Harbaugh took over, the Ravens and Steelers have split their 10 regular-season games. Eight of the past 10 contests have been decided by three points or less, including seven of the past eight.
Will it be as close this year? As much as Ravens fans have fretted this season, the picture has been even darker in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers lost their first four games for the first time since 1968. They lost Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey in the first series of their first game. Pittsburgh traded for tackle Levi Brown to help secure their offensive line and he tore his triceps in warm-ups before his first game.
Pittsburgh ranks 31st in the NFL in rushing yards (61 per game), and is having trouble stopping the run too, ranking 22nd (114.8).
But the Ravens don’t see the Steelers as a weakened team.
“They’re still the Steelers,” said wide receiver
“Their record isn’t showing how great a football team they are,” added cornerback
Despite Pittsburgh’s struggles, it won’t be easy to kick them further down the standings. And outside linebacker
“This is a team that is never going to say die,” Suggs said. “They’re definitely going to come out, and they’re going to play, and we are expecting the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
The only difference Suggs pointed to is the continuing changing faces of the rivalry.
Like the Ravens with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, the Steelers moved on from two defensive stalwarts in nose tackle Casey Hampton and pass rushing outside linebacker James Harrison. Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward is two years removed.
“Definitely the look of this movie is a little bit different than what we’ve seen before,” Suggs said. “But it’s Ravens-Steelers, Heinz Field, at 4:25 p.m. And once you get into it, it’s going to feel like Ravens-Steelers.”
Suggs said he thinks both teams will address their physicality, especially in the run game, more in this game than in any other. The Ravens-Steelers matchups are known for their grittiness, and a lot of that happens in the trenches.
“You can throw the records out,” guard