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The Rivalry: Why done so early?

All week, the AFC North blog will feature match-ups, trends and news leading up to the biggest rivalry in the NFL -- Ravens at Steelers on Sunday night.

The fan bases of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens rarely agree, but there's a matter that everyone should be upset about. Why is the last regular-season meeting between the Ravens (5-2) and Steelers (6-2) happening in the first week of November?

This is a rivalry that should end every season on a frozen December night with the AFC North title on the line. Instead, the 2011 home-and-home series will conclude with the leaves still on the trees and decide which team will hold first place in the AFC North at the midway point of the season. Not exactly high drama.

The Ravens and Steelers are playing each other for a second time before they play the Browns or the Bengals once. NFL schedule makers should be ashamed of themselves.

For the previous five seasons, there has been a Ravens-Steelers game in December. It's like the NFL took away its own version of Christmas by scheduling this game six days after Halloween.

“The root of the matter is, we have two very good football teams with the same intentions and that is to dominate the AFC North and put themselves in positions to chase the Lombardi,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “That is why we will always have issues with these guys because I expect that their goals will be unchanging like ours.”

While these games between the Ravens and Steelers will likely factor into the AFC North race and other tiebreakers, it's tough to talk about the Lombardi Trophy at this point of the season.

Take a look at some previous December meetings between the Ravens and Steelers since 2006 and the implications of those games:

  • Dec. 24, 2006: Ravens win, 31-7. Steve McNair threw for touchdown passes of 35, 1 and 25 yards as the Ravens grabbed control of one of the top two seeds and a first-round bye. Pittsburgh was officially eliminated from defending its Super Bowl championship in the playoffs.

  • Dec. 14, 2008: Steelers win, 13-9. Santonio Holmes' controversial 4-yard touchdown catch with 43 seconds left in the game clinched the AFC North and led to the Steelers celebrating the division crown on the Ravens' home turf.

  • Dec. 27, 2009: Steelers win, 23-20. Three Ravens touchdowns were taken away by penalties as the Steelers denied Baltimore the chance of clinching a playoff spot.

  • Dec. 5, 2010: Steelers win, 13-10. Troy Polamalu stripped Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco of the ball in the fourth quarter, which led to Isaac Redman's game-winning catch-and-run for the touchdown. The Steelers took a one-game lead over the Ravens with four weeks left in the season.

“I think it’s a big game,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “It’s a game that we love to play in. It’s Ravens-Steelers. We know how to play that game; they know how to play that game. We’re looking forward to it. I do know that.”