If there’s one thing the Ravens have become famous for over the past 16 or 17 years, it's crafting a reputation as being the team "nobody wants to face" once January rolls around.
In other words, the "most dangerous team" in the playoff field.
Baltimore first earned this reputation following the 2000 season, when it entered the postseason as the fourth seed and didn't stop playing dominant defense until it was crowned Super Bowl XXXIV Champion.
In case you aren't fluent in sports jargon, "most dangerous" is usually the label given to a lower-seeded team, one that enters the playoffs with a record perhaps closer to mediocre than it is to excellent.
Because it's no fun to label those higher-seeded teams, the ones with the excellent records, as most dangerous. I mean, why give one team all of the playoff storylines when you can spread them out to the entire postseason field?
Anyway, as the Ravens arrived at Heinz Field to take on the Steelers, Sunday night, NBC play-by-play announcer Al Michaels labeled them "red hot."
Actually, Michaels described both teams as red hot, meaning the Ravens, winners of three-straight games, were just as hot as a Steelers team that came into Week 14, winners of seven straight.
Describing both teams as equally "red hot" is like describing jalapeno and green peppers as equally super-duper hot.
Michaels also described the AFC North as "up for grabs," when, in actuality, the 10-2 Steelers came into the night with a three-game lead and several mulligans in their back pocket, while Baltimore (7-5) needed to win just to continue hanging on by a thread.
You get the point.
The Steelers entered Week 14, winners of 19 of their previous 22 games and reigning champions of the AFC North.
The Ravens entered the night on a bit of a surge, and doing what they always seem to do this time of year: wear other teams down with a dominant defense that makes up for the deficiencies of an average-to-below offense.
Don't get me wrong, like most Steelers followers, I’m always quite weary of Baltimore's recipe for success, because it has a way of working in the most annoying and frustrating ways.
That seemed to be the case on Sunday night, as the mediocre Ravens’ offense devised a game-plan which took advantage of the absence of inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, and appeared to expose both Vince Williams and the recently-signed Sean Spence.
Baltimore was also the beneficiary of some questionable pass-interference calls.
But, hey, that's the Ravens’ game—always has been and always will be.
And those questionable penalties had very little to do with the 413 yards Pittsburgh's defense allowed—including a disturbing 152 yards on the ground, as Keith Butler's unit had few answers for running back Alex Collins all night long.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who certainly isn't having one of his finest seasons, seemed to do what he always does at Heinz Field, and that's to play annoyingly well, racking up 269 passing yards and two touchdowns, while enjoying decent protection most of the evening.
Not surprisingly, the Ravens’ defense had an answer for running back Le'Veon Bell, limiting him to 48 yards—at least on the ground.
Bell also tallied 77 yards on nine receptions, and managed to score three touchdowns on the night—two on the ground; another through the air.
Speaking of offenses, the Steelers clearly had the better one on Sunday night, posting 545 total yards.
Speaking of quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger clearly was the better one, becoming the first quarterback to pass for 500 yards in a game three different times, when he put 506 on Baltimore's dominant defense.
Speaking of wide receivers, Antonio Brown is clearly the best one on the planet, as he somehow managed to total 213 yards on 11 catches, despite drawing double-teams the entire night.
Speaking of the Steelers’ struggling and injury-depleted defense, even while playing perhaps its worst game of the season on Sunday, it found a way to come up with key plays at key moments.
The first example was the interception by safety Sean Davis on the game's first series.
With the Ravens well-within field goal range, Davis, who had an otherwise very forgettable night, likely saved three points, points which would prove to be quite crucial, hours later.
The second example came at the end of the game.
I don't know about you, but after Chris Boswell kicked a 46-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 39-38 lead with 42 seconds remaining, I had this sinking feeling Flacco would lead his offense just far enough downfield to have a chance to steal the game on the leg of now very legendary—and very lethal—kicker Justin Tucker.
From his own 39 and with 16 seconds left, Flacco might have been able to get just close enough for an attempt, if he could find a receiver about 15 yards downfield.
But T.J. Watt, the rookie outside linebacker who has spent all of 2017 making James Harrison question why he even re-signed with Pittsburgh, recorded the team's only sack of the night, a sack that forced a fumble and clinched the division for the Steelers.
Speaking of teams, by roaring back from fourth-quarter deficits of 31-20 and 38-29 to capture their second-straight division championship (and third in four years), the Steelers are, again, the class of the AFC North.
At 7-6, and with a fairly-easy schedule down-the-stretch, the Ravens will probably do what they usually do, and that's make the playoffs as a wild-card.
Following previous scripts, this will allow them to hold on to their current label of "most dangerous team" once the postseason begins.
The Ravens may even go into a place like Tennessee or Jacksonville on Wildcard Weekend and walk away with a road playoff win (nothing new for Baltimore).
Depending on how the seeding shakes out between now and January, this might even lead to the Ravens coming back to Heinz Field for the divisional round.
This will surely strengthen that "most dangerous team" narrative and lead to some trepidation among Steelers fans.
But fear not, Steelers faithful—the most dangerous team is usually the best one.
At 11-2, the Steelers aren't just division champions, they currently hold the AFC's top seed.
I don't know about you, but the Steelers seem like the most dangerous team, and I certainly wouldn't want to face them, come playoff time.