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Eisenberg: Logic Says Pittsburgh's Bound To Win; Ravens Don't Give A Hoot About Logic


Logic dictates that the Ravens are bound to run out of inventive ways to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers pretty soon. I mean, come on.

The teams have been playing each other for two decades, and they're about as evenly matched as identical twins. Pittsburgh leads the all-time regular season series, 21-20.

Since the Steelers won five in a row in the late 1990s, then won four in a row in the early 2000s, the teams have pretty much traded wins, like a pair of heavyweights exchanging blows.

Lately, though, the Ravens have exercised an uncharacteristic measure of dominance. They've won four in a row and six out of seven. They haven't lost to their bitter rivals in 25 months.

As if that weren't unusual enough, their four straight wins have featured all sorts of unpredictable and unusual developments.

In the 2014 playoffs, the Ravens walked into Heinz Field as decided underdogs and won a postseason game over the Steelers for the first time.

In the 2015 regular season, they won once by overcoming a 13-point, second-half deficit, then won again with Ryan Mallett playing quarterback.

Earlier this year, the Ravens entered a home contest against Pittsburgh having lost four games in a row, and experienced a tepid offensive day: they averaged just 1.7 yards on 29 rushing attempts and converted just four of 17 third downs into firsts. Yet they blew out the Steelers, building a 21-0 lead before hanging on to win.

Yeah, weird.

With the teams set to play Sunday in Pittsburgh and playoff fates hanging, most fans around the country probably expect the Steelers to get a win for Christmas while consigning the Ravens to a lump of coal. It's just how the rivalry rolls. Things tend to even out, and 25 months is a long time for one team to hold the upper hand.

Also, the Steelers are hot, having won five straight games, while the Ravens have lost four straight on the road. Baltimore's only 2016 road wins are against the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars, teams with a combined 2-26 record. Thus, the Steelers are solidly favored.

But in the face of that pro-Pittsburgh evidence, there's this little nugget to consider: One team doesn't win four games in a row against another by accident. There's something going on.

The Steelers finished ahead of the Ravens in the standings in 2014 and 2015, and they're ahead again this year, but when the teams actually meet, well, football is a sport of matchups, and somehow, amid the clash of alignments, tactics and personnel, the Ravens have found a lasting edge.

Is there a thread connecting the four wins a row? A common theme? Well, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Browns and Le'Veon Bell have soared away from many opponents, but the Ravens have controlled them pretty well, limiting the Steelers to a 17-point average in the four games. (Roethlisberger didn't play in one game and was coming back from an injury in another, and Bell also missed one game.)

I think it goes without saying that the Ravens will again need their defense to make things tough for Pittsburgh's offense if they want to win Sunday. Look for Roethlisberger to test the secondary early to see if it holds up without cornerback Jimmy Smith.

Offensively, the Ravens have exhibited resourcefulness during the winning streak, finding different ways to prevail. Justin Forsett rushed for 150 yards in the 2014 playoff win. Mallett was brilliant on that December day in 2015 despite having been with the Ravens for less than two weeks. The rest of the offense sputtered for most of the game earlier this year, but Mike Wallace caught a 95-yard touchdown pass.

No, those prior contests will have no bearing on Sunday's game. The Ravens don't get a three-point head start because they've won four in a row. Every game brings a clean slate, and the Steelers surely are tired of seeing the Ravens have fun at their expense.

But that fun has been going on awhile now – longer than you think. The Ravens actually have won nine of their last 12 games against Pittsburgh going back to 2011. Nine of 12! You would expect that in a rivalry with Cleveland, but Pittsburgh?

Logic may dictate that the tide is bound to turn, but in the wake of all that success, the Ravens bristle with confidence when they play Pittsburgh, and I'm sure they couldn't give one hoot about what logic dictates.

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