AFC North archrivals are set to meet for the first time on Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. These two teams won in each other's stadium last year with Baltimore taking the first meeting in Week 4 26-14 before losing at home in Week 9 23-16. It's hard to gather a lot from those matchups because the quarterback battle featured a guy now on the sidelines against a signal-caller who is now in Denver. Also, Antonio Brown accounted for two touchdowns in the contests and he's nowhere to be found.
The Ravens (2-2) have lost two straight games after opening the season with victories over the Cardinals and Dolphins. The common thread was a lack of defense as they gave up 73 points in losses to the Chiefs and Browns. It's expected that squads will allow a ton of points to Kansas City, but Cleveland's success was a bit odd. Yes, the Browns have a very good offense, but a lot of the damage was done by running back Nick Chubb. Among the injuries that bear watching for Baltimore are cornerback Jimmy Smith and defensive lineman Brandon Williams.
The Steelers (1-3) finally got in the win column with a victory on Monday night against the Bengals. Pittsburgh's defense menaced Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton (8 sacks, INT) all night and James Conner had 125 total yards and a touchdown in the 27-3 cakewalk. It's been a roller coaster for the Steelers thus far with the season-opening blowout loss to New England in which they lost Ben Roethlisberger, followed by close losses to the 49ers and Seahawks. Cam Heyward hurt his quad on Monday and that could be important if it lingers. Also of note is the injury to tight end Vance McDonald although recently acquired Nick Vannett has already made an impact.
Baltimore at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Ravens -3.5
Three Things to Watch
I always like to consider some of the extra things involved with a matchup. For the home team, it's one less day to prepare for the Ravens and the distinct coaching disadvantage that Mike Tomlin appears to at going up against John Harbaugh. Tomlin lost a challenge on Monday and has struggled with gameday adjustments from time-to-time. On the Baltimore side, there's the obvious "desperation" that comes with ending a two-game losing streak. The Ravens certainly don't want things to snowball but they also have a home game against the Bengals in Week 6 so they should be able to make it out of this stretch no worse than .500. Also, Baltimore has played better on the road than at home in the early going.
2. Blips on the radar or real deal?
For one night, everything worked for the Steelers as they exhibited the balance that teams need to succeed. Mason Rudolph was wildly efficient with just four incompletions. Granted he didn't really stress the defense deep on many of his throws, but it still worked. Rudolph was very talented in Oklahoma State so I'm not that surprised by this success. James Conner still didn't find a ton of rushing lanes, but using Jaylen Samuels out of the wildcat was a nice touch. Technically he completed three passes for 31 yards along with 26 rushing yards and 57 receiving.
On the other side, you've got a Ravens team that saw Lamar Jackson throw two interceptions and take four sacks as well in the 40-15 loss to the Browns. Baltimore allowed nearly 200 yards on the ground alone, with most of those coming from the aforementioned Chubb. Cleveland actually held the ball longer than the Ravens, which is never a recipe for success. Stopping the run hadn't been an issue for this defense previously. If that trend continues, then Baltimore is really in trouble until the secondary gets healthy. The pass rush couldn't get home on Baker Mayfield.
3. Clash of the styles
This matchup represents somewhat a clash of styles. The Steelers would probably much prefer a lower-scoring game seeing as though their offensive weapons aren't as good without AB and Le'Veon Bell. They want to play a game with fewer possessions because Rudolph's arm doesn't allow as much for big plays. Ironically, in this matchup, Baltimore probably wants to go a little up-tempo with Jackson to try and force Pittsburgh to open things up on offense. The Ravens are a ball-control team, but I think they can take advantage of the Steelers through the air. I'm sure Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards will be used plenty, but I bet we see plenty of passes too.
Home-field advantage didn't matter last year with the visitors winning each game. I think that changes this year with the Steelers taking care of business on Sunday. Games like this past Monday help propel a team to play better. I think Mason Rudolph takes advantage of a vulnerable Ravens secondary and I think the Steelers force Lamar Jackson into another turnover or two. The race in the AFC North gets a lot more interesting after a Steelers win.
Prediction: Steelers 23, Ravens 20
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.