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Steelers may already have passed their stiffest AFC North test

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The Steelers went into M&T Bank Stadium, a place where they rarely play well, and handed the Ravens a 26-9 beatdown on Sunday. In doing so, the Steelers improved to 2-0 in the division, significantly enhancing their chances of going undefeated in the AFC North in 2017.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

When I think back to the Steelers’ glorious 2008 run to a Super Bowl XLIII victory, I still can't believe they went undefeated in the AFC North, an accomplishment that helped earn them a division title and a No. 2 seed in the postseason.

Sure, the Browns were still the Browns, and the Bengals were still a few years away from not being quite so Bengals-like, but what about those Ravens?

Thanks to the hiring of head coach John Harbaugh and the drafting of quarterback Joe Flacco, both of whom joined a team that already had established defenders named Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed, Baltimore was in the early stages of becoming the Steelers biggest nemesis this side of New England.

Yes, Pittsburgh swept the Ravens in the regular season in '08 but, as you may remember, one game was won in overtime, and the other was clinched when Santonio Holmes unwittingly gave us a preview of his Super Bowl heroics by pulling in a pass from Ben Roethlisberger in the final seconds and somehow touching his toes down as he oh so briefly broke the plane of the goal line at M&T Bank Stadium.

And let's not forget the gladiator clash that was the AFC Championship Game between these two teams at Heinz Field—a harder hitting affair, I have not seen.

This brings us to 2017 and the Steelers’ prospects for going undefeated in the AFC North for the first time since their run to a sixth Lombardi.

Call me crazy (or a jinx), but after a 26-9 thumping of the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, I think Pittsburgh's chances of running the divisional gauntlet have improved immensely.

Why do I say that?

Be honest, weren't you dreading the Steelers’ Week-4 trip to Baltimore, a city where they hadn't won in since 2012? I certainly was. I had visions of another frustrating 60 minutes where the Ravens kept things close until the end and managed to pull out a win, thanks to special teams, a timely turnover or Harbaugh's annoying coaching prowess.

But as the contest commenced, it was immediately evident these weren't your proud Ravens of yesteryear, a team that knew how to beat Pittsburgh and followed the blueprint without fail.

The Ravens might have tried to follow a specific blueprint with a tried-and-true game-plan, but when you don't have the horses, you don't have the horses.

For example, the Ravens got that timely turnover early in the second half, thanks to Harbaugh's annoying prowess, leading him to challenge the fact that Antonio Brown never actually had possession of a catch in a play on which he was ruled down by contact before the football popped up into the waiting arms of safety Eric Weddle.

Like he typically does, Harbaugh smugly won his challenge, which gave his team new life at the Pittsburgh 20. But all his offense could muster was to settle for a Justin Tucker field goal after losing six yards on three plays.

I was super-emotional watching the game, as I jumped up and screamed at the top of my lungs several times. But looking back on things, I feel kind of silly.

Sure, the Ravens were a bit decimated by injuries on Sunday, but we're also talking about a team that has only finished above .500 one time since winning Super Bowl XLVII following the 2012 campaign.

We're talking about a Ravens franchise that no longer employs Lewis or Reed.

As for Flacco, despite always giving the Steelers’ defense fits in the past, these days he looks beat-up and on the downside of his career.

Anyway, the victory improved the Steelers AFC North record to 2-0. They’ve got two games left against the Bengals who suddenly look very Bengals-like once again, and they round out their division schedule with home dates against both the Ravens and Browns, two teams they've already vanquished on the road.

Yes, there’s a chance the Steelers might have one or even two of those frustrating games in which they play down to the level of their competition. But even if they do have a lapse or two along the way, it doesn't appear that any AFC North foe—not even the once-frustrating Ravens—would be able to take advantage.

Barring any backsliding, the path looks pretty clear for the Steelers to go 6-0 in the AFC North this year. And if they can do that, it would go a long way towards helping them earn another trophy or two.