Eisenberg: Strange Steelers Week


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The Ravens and Steelers haven't played a game against their other division mates, the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, yet they're about to be done with each other.

Memo to schedule maker: Don't do this again.

When these games come and go this soon, before the season really gets going, they lose a bit of their edge. No one can say a division title is on the line Sunday night at Heinz Field.

Yes, the Steelers have a half-game lead on the Ravens, so it's obviously a crucial contest. But Marvin Lewis' surprising Bengals have the same record as the Ravens and a quartet of games remaining against them and the Steelers, so things could change and change again down the stretch. Who knows how it all might shake out?

Besides, this has truly become a season in which predicting how things will go is virtually pointless.

Every NFL season has its sharp turns, surprises and dramatic ups and downs, but for whatever reason – quite possibly the effect of a locked-out offseason on overall stability – 2011 is just, well, way out there.

I dare you to explain how the New Orleans Saints can beat a winless team by 55 points one week, then take on another winless squad the next week, fall behind by 20 and lose.

I dare you to explain how the Kansas City Chiefs can open the season with three straight losses, including 41-7 and 48-3 debacles, but rebound to hold the division lead within a month.

Things are strange out there.

Most league insiders think they know how this Sunday night is going to go. The Steelers are 6-2 and on a roll after opening the season on the wrong end of a 35-7 rout in Baltimore. They're coming off a big win over the New England Patriots and they're sitting atop the AFC.

The Ravens, meanwhile, are plagued by inconsistency, having barely escaped with a split of back-to-back games against opponents with 1-5 records. They're 5-2 overall, not a bad place to be, but if the playoffs began today, they would sit out the party.

No doubt about it, many signs point to a win for the Steelers. They're at home, they're playing well, and you know they're anxious to exact revenge for getting flogged so miserably in September. They have that history of disappointing the Ravens in the end.

It could be that things play out exactly as expected. But in this season of surprises, perhaps it is wise not to lean too heavily on conventional expectations.

The Ravens will be underdogs for the first time in 2011; after playing the heavy in every game so far, now they're expected to lose. It could be a nice place to position themselves mentally going into this game. Circle the wagons. Us against the world. It's always an effective motivator.

They also may have come up with a nifty answer to their offensive woes when they switched to the hurry-up last Sunday.

Maybe part two of this strange, early-season doubleheader with the Steelers ends up surprising no one. But maybe it does.

John Eisenberg *covers the Ravens for Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. He worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.*

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