Steelers-Ravens: Best NFL Rivalry

The smartest, bravest, and best-looking all agree that Steelers-Ravens is the NFL's best rivalry. That and more:

There are few better sportswriters in the country than Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News, and few smarter.

This is what Gosselin wrote this week about tonight's game between the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens:

"This is the best rivalry in the NFL today – much like what the Chiefs-Raiders were in the 1960s and the Cowboys-Redskins in the 1970s. … The best rivalries in any sport are when both teams are playing at an elite level."

Both the Steelers and Ravens are 8-3 and tied atop the AFC North Division. Between them, the Steelers and Ravens have won three Super Bowls in the last decade, and the winner of tonight's game will have a leg up on some homefield advantage for another Super Bowl run.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn't blink when asked if this is the NFL's best rivalry.

"Without question," he said. "I don't think there's another one that's in the ball park."

"This could be the biggest rivalry in sports," said Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. "I think the last couple years we passed the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in baseball.

"This is football at its best. It's December and it's going to be cold with two great teams, two teams with great defenses. This rivalry is what everybody is looking for. Then you have it on primetime TV so the world can see."

Steelers right tackle Flozell Adams spent 12 seasons in Dallas but it didn't take him long to understand the intensity of Steelers-Ravens.

"You always think you can see from the outside how a rivalry is, but until you experience it you never really know how intense it is," Adams said. "Since Day 1, when I first got here, the rivalry with the Ravens has been the main focal point. I can definitely feel that and I'm glad to be a part of it."

Does he sense bitterness?

"I wouldn't say bitterness. I'm just saying we're more focused on things you have to do to make sure your job is right so you're able to beat these guys, because they're not an easy team to beat."

NGATA = LOTTA RESPECT Before going up against Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata two weeks ago, Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil reminisced back to the first time he faced the big man in college.

"It was the only time in my life that I've ever been frightened of another player on a football field," said Kalil.

Steelers rookie center Maurkice Pouncey chuckled at the comment.

"That's a little much," Pouncey said. "Don't play football if you're going to be scared of somebody."

What does Pouncey think of the 6-4, 350-pound Ngata?

"He's a great challenge, one of the best players in the NFL," Pouncey said. "You want to play guys like that. He's awesome. He's got everything. He's so strong. He is a great player and it's a great challenge and an honor to go against him."

With 50 tackles, 5 sacks and a forced fumble, Ngata has been drawing mention as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

However, the Ravens are posting their poorest numbers against the run than at any point since drafting Ngata in 2006.

A top-5 finisher in fewest rushing yards per game and attempts allowed in each of the last four seasons, the Ravens currently rank 11th in rushing yards yielded per game (101.7) and 17th in rushing yards allowed per carry (4.2).

INJURY REPORT

The Steelers will be without DE Aaron Smith (triceps) and TE Matt Spaeth (concussion) tonight, but expect to have the rest of the players on the injury list available and healthy.

The Ravens' list is a bit more confusing.

* LT Michael Oher left the last game with a sprained right knee and wasn't expected to play against the Steelers. He then practiced Wednesday, Thursday and part of Friday. He missed the portion of Friday's practice that was open to the media, and then left the locker room without comment.

* Fullback Le'Ron McClain missed last week's game with a sprained ankle and was replaced in the backfield by rookie tight end Dennis Pitta. The Ravens then signed a true lead blocker this week, Jason McKie, but McClain practiced Friday with a "heavily taped" ankle.

* Leading receiver Derrick Mason missed Friday's practice with a sudden illness.

* Strong safety Dawan Landry and right guard Chris Chester are both expected to return to the lineup.

As for Oher, he'd be replaced by Oniel Cousins, and the Steelers hope Cousins isn't also allowed to consistently drop back into pass protection a full beat before the snap.

"He was doing that a lot," James Farrior said of Oher. "Hey, man, he's going against Deebo [James Harrison]. When he's the guy, it don't matter. They can do anything to him."

QUOTABLE

Harbaugh, in support of his brother, Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, on a college playoff system:

"They keep talking ‘Well it's money, money,' well I want to know who is getting the money. I am sure a playoff system would generate huge revenues for college athletic programs. It wouldn't be cutting the men's wrestling team and the women's swimming team. We would have a great advantage and the money would be going where it belongs. It would be going to the colleges and not to whoever is running these bowl games. Let's do that, let's follow the money and find out what the heck is going on because it's a joke. It's hypocritical. The fact that they're going to talk about the ‘student-athlete,' and yet we have basketball players taking a week and going to Alaska or playing at 3 o'clock in the morning. Come on. A football team plays on the weekend. I just think it is comical that they don't have a playoff in college football."


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