It has all the makings of another classic Ravens/Steelers battle.
If you discount the injuries and retirement of the stars of the past games in the rivalry, that is.
The latest chapter has the looming presence of the unknown, considering these teams haven't played without Hines Ward or Ray Lewis since 1998. Those unknown factors give the Steelers the advantage.
Mama, I'm Comin' Home
It may seem cliche, or even a reach, to suggest the fact Ben Roethlisberger won't play in this game can be nullified by the Heinz Field crowd, but as excited as the Ravens are about their 7-2 start, they've played (again) very poorly on the road in wins and losses. This week, Baltimore is going against the 2012 Steelers while the legions of former players are on hand as part of the team's 80th Season Anniversary celebration. The Steelers put up the most one-sided win in the rivalry's history when they took on the Ravens on Monday Night in 2007 - it was the culmination of the Steelers' 75th Anniversary.
You're No Different
There isn't a more bi-polar quarterback in the league than Ravens QB Joe Flacco. At home, masterful. He's thrown for 1,612 yards, 10 touchdowns, three picks and a rating of 108.3. On the road, abysmal. He's thrown for 719 yards, completed 52.2 percent of his passes (for 5.29 yards per attempt) and has four interceptions to three touchdowns. His rating is 62.7 outside Baltimore. Perhaps more telling, Flacco's rating in wins is 100.5. In losses, it's 56.0. The Ravens win and lose on Flacco's bony shoulders. He's horrendous on the road and is facing one of the best pass defenses in football.
I Don't Know
There isn't any tangible game film on Byron Leftwich since Sept. 27, 2009 - his last start when he was a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Ravens have 32 plays in which to dissect Leftwich's recent performance, and none of them came with a game plan implemented fully with him in mind. Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley is one of the most creative offensive minds in football, and even with a short week in the lab, we can expect the offense to look much different with Leftwich under center. Simply put, the Ravens have no idea what to prepare for, while the Steelers have nine games worth of current film on the Ravens.
Rashard Mendenhall is healthy. Rashard Mendenhall has never rushed for 100 yards against the Baltimore Ravens. Rashard Mendenhall is a free agent after this season. Don't think for a second Mendenhall and his agent didn't circle this game when the schedules came out. His ability to dominate this game on the ground will be a huge part of his contract negotiations, whether that's with the Steelers or another team. This is perhaps the biggest advantage the Steelers have had in this rivalry in terms of being able to run the ball. He'll be running downhill all game against the league's 26th-ranked run defense.
Diary of a Madman
Baltimore put up 55 points against the Oakland Raiders in an impressive performance. Not to take anything away from that, but they did it almost entirely through the air. They ran for 72 yards (three yards a carry), and in it, showed the age and regression of its run blocking. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and his mad scientist-concocted blitz packages have a way of eliminating one phase of an offense (running or passing) and suffocating the other if they cannot break their offense into balance. Kansas City looked far more dominant on the ground against Pittsburgh than Baltimore did against Oakland. The Steelers can stifle the explosive Ray Rice, and lean on Flacco to aim deep much of this game. It won't come without its price (Flacco will hit a few plays down the field) but he very well could struggle with the same consistency issues that have dogged him throughout his career.