There's going to be plenty of conversation about what's at stake for the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday night, so let's get ahead of the chatter and identify which team is under more pressure.
The Ravens want to win for all sorts of reasons, but the Steelers absolutely, positively have to win. It's a bigger game for Team Terrible Towel.
The Steelers, who started slowly this season, are situated a game behind the Ravens in the AFC North after surviving the Kansas City Chiefs' upset bid in overtime Monday night, so a loss Sunday night would put them two behind with six to play, a very bad place to be with the rematch between the teams set for Dec. 2 in Baltimore, where the Ravens have won 15 straight regular-season games.
The Steelers will be highly motivated to avoid that set of circumstances, especially now that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger reportedly suffered a separated shoulder Monday night, making their prospects more precarious.
True, the Ravens will also be sufficiently motivated, with plenty to play for and gain; they could drive a dagger into the division race by winning Sunday night, giving them a true stranglehold on first place.
But plain and simple, the Ravens can afford to lose and the Steelers can't.
It's possible that won't have any bearing on the game. The absence of crushing pressure could produce a strong performance from the Ravens, who have won two straight regular-season games in Pittsburgh.
But the fact that they have the division lead does give them a safety net of sorts. Even if they give up first place Sunday night, they can still reclaim the top spot by winning the rematch at M&T Bank Stadium.
They would be the ones under pressure that day, the ones who absolutely, positively have to win. But that's not the case this week.
It seems counterintuitive that the Ravens' run-of-the-mill game against the Cleveland Browns two weeks ago was a "must win," as labeled by Head Coach John Harbaugh, and this high-profile game against the Steelers isn't, but bottom line, when you're playing at home in this fierce rivalry, you need to "hold serve," take care of business, or you'll be sorry. The Steelers are on the clock this week.
Two years ago, the Ravens seemingly gained the upper hand with an early-season win in Pittsburgh, but they gave back their advantage when the Steelers beat them in Baltimore in December. The Steelers wound up winning the division by a tiebreaker and advancing to the Super Bowl.
Last year, the Ravens again gained the upper hand with an early-season win at M&T Bank Stadium and doubled down their advantage with a dramatic come-from-behind win in Pittsburgh in November. The Steelers paid dearly for letting that happen. The Ravens took the division title via tiebreaker (both teams finished 12-4) so the Steelers had to go on the road in the playoffs and were immediately knocked out. The Ravens got to stay home for a round and came within a dropped pass of going to the Super Bowl.
Moral of the story: Home losses in this rivalry tend to ruin your season.
You can be sure the Steelers are itching to settle the score; they've been looking up at the Ravens in the division for some time now, since the Ravens' season-opening win in 2011. Pittsburgh hasn't beaten Baltimore since January 2011 – 22 months ago.
By the same token, you know the Ravens are itching to take a third straight regular-season game at Heinz Field. That would make quite a statement.
Roethlisberger's injury changes the narrative, for sure. Big Ben is having one of his best seasons, and now he may not play.
But don't make the mistake of believing his absence would guarantee a Baltimore win. Yes, the Ravens have beaten the Steelers twice in recent years when Ben was sidelined, but both games were close, with one going into overtime.
Having the league's No. 1 defense means the Steelers are going to be competitive in every game, especially in Pittsburgh, regardless of who is playing quarterback.
True, the Steelers were having a subpar game even before Big Ben went down Monday night. But they'll be amped up Sunday night. They desperately need to win.