Bitter, brutal, bruising. Of all the terms applied to the Ravens–Steelers rivalry, former Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward may have said it best: “Pure hatred.” Where history and animosity are concerned, the bad blood between these teams is exceptional. After all, their shared division puts them on a collision course each year, and these squads have plenty of experience clawing at each other for AFC North supremacy.
To add to the tension, the teams have stirred up plenty of extracurricular controversy over the years. There was that time Joey Porter tried to chase down the Ravens’ team bus to fight Ray Lewis. And remember the incident in which the Steelers’ Mitch Berger accused Frank Walker of spitting in his mouth? (If that’s true, Frank, weird way to display dominance.) Even Ben Roethlisberger owes a broken nose to the rivalry, thanks to a 2010 thumping from Haloti Ngata.
But for all the brash talk and big hits, which team actually owns bragging rights? We studied the record of all these teams’ meetings from the 1996 season through December 2017, calculating which franchise has the historical lead. Ready to learn which side of the rivalry has earned the right to talk smack over time? Then keep reading.
History Between the Hash Marks
Congrats to residents of the Steel City: Since the Ravens showed up in Baltimore in 1996, Pittsburgh has had the better head-to-head win total. In fact, during the first couple years of the rivalry, the Ravens struggled mightily against Pittsburgh, beating them just once from September 1996 until December 1999. While the Ravens’ form improved slightly in the 21st century, the Steelers expanded their win total in the latter half of the 2000s. Pittsburg claimed Super Bowls in 2006 and 2009, and by January 2011, they were leading by nine in total head-to-head win counts.
Thankfully for Baltimore fans, the Joe Flacco era has seen that gap narrow, among other accomplishments such as a championship in 2012. From November 2014 until December 2016, the Steelers went winless against their rivals, allowing the Ravens to cut the lead to three wins overall. Baltimore, however, has gone winless against Pittsburgh since that time. The Steelers won the division in 2016 and 2017, and the gap stood at six wins at the time we collected our data.
As if the clash between these squads needed an additional spotlight, the Steelers and Ravens have made several joint appearances on Monday and Thursday nights. Interestingly, Pittsburgh seems to flourish on Mondays, whereas the Ravens rule on Thursdays. Perhaps we now know the true reason Ben Roethlisberger has railed against Thursday play – we’d resent it as well if it seemed to suit our rivals. The team’s split games played on Saturday with one win apiece – the day previously reserved for college football is now a part of the NFL postseason schedule.
As with competition across the NFL, however, Sunday proved the definitive day in the history of these rivals. Accounting for the entire win gap between these teams currently, Sunday games favored the Steelers, who had a total of 23 wins to the Ravens’ 17. A particularly stinging example of Baltimore’s Sunday misfortune came in December 2017, when Pittsburgh achieved a comeback win to cement their division title.
The Duel for the Division Continues
While this rivalry’s roots are well-established, the tension between these teams remains alive and well. The Steelers and Ravens captured their division’s top two spots in 2017, and you can bet they’ll both be angling for playoff spots in the years to come. And despite the violence that has characterized recent matchups between the Steelers and Bengals, there’s no question which rival the Steelers would prefer to line up against. When asked which opponent he preferred, Roethlisberger was unequivocal in choosing Baltimore over Cincinnati any day. “There’s not the same respect,” he said.
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To compile the data presented in this project, we utilized information from pro-football-reference.com, a database of historical statistics on the performance of professional football teams and players. We included information only from games in which the Ravens and Steelers competed against each other, dating from September 1996 through December 2017. No statistical testing was performed, so the claims listed above are based on raw win totals alone.