Bitterness runs deep for Steelers, Ravens

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

PITTSBURGH -- Steelers offensive tackle Willie Colon best summed up the bad blood between Pittsburgh and the Baltimore Ravens.

"They don't like us. We don't like them," Colon said bluntly. "I'm [hesitant] to say that they do respect us, but chances are they probably don't."

Familiarity often breeds contempt in the NFL, and no pair of division rivals have been so similar -- yet despise each other more -- than the Steelers (2-1) and Ravens (2-0).

Both teams enjoy beating up opponents on both sides of the football. So when these bullies meet twice a year, it's usually a 60-minute brawl disguised as a football game.

After another full week of verbal jousting, these teams will clash once again in primetime on "Monday Night Football" for sole possession of first in the AFC North.

"It's two teams that mirror each other, so when you go in there you know it's your type of game -- it's a man's game," said Ravens linebacker Bart Scott. "It's going to be a physical game, because they're a physical team and we're a physical team.

"The only other teams I can imagine playing the same way is the Jacksonville Jaguars, and maybe the [Chicago] Bears. There's only four teams that try and win football games the way that we do."

Since 2002, Baltimore has won the AFC North twice ('03 and '06), and Pittsburgh has won it three times ('02, '04 and '07). The Steelers were a wildcard team in 2005. And once again these clubs have already separated themselves as early favorites in the AFC North in 2008.

Most experts expected the Steelers to be here. Pittsburgh won the division last season following a 10-6 campaign and has been one of the more consistent teams in the AFC over the past decade, along with the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts.

It's the Ravens' fast start that caught many by surprise.

Baltimore won just five games last season and brought in a rookie head coach in John Harbaugh and a rookie first-round quarterback in Joe Flacco to try to resurrect this franchise. The combination so far has produced magical results.

Flacco is doing a solid job of taking care of the football and the undefeated Ravens boast the NFL's top-rated defense.

"I haven't overlooked them and I don't think anybody in this locker room has," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "But I think people in the media have, because of what the [Cleveland] Browns have done in the offseason and the question of what [the Ravens] were going to do on offense. They didn't know who they were going to have at quarterback. Now they have a rookie quarterback and he's playing pretty well right now."

So far, Flacco is doing his best Roethlisberger impersonation this season.

After a shoulder injury to Kyle Boller and a viral infection for Troy Smith, Flacco surprisingly was thrown into the starting lineup as a rookie and has yet to lose. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Flacco is only the third rookie quarterback since 1970 to win his team's first two games of the season. The other two were the Denver Broncos' John Elway in 1983 and Ryan Leaf of the San Diego Chargers in 1998.

Roethlisberger didn't start Pittsburgh's season opener as a rookie in 2004, but went on to win 13 consecutive starts in the regular season.

Harbaugh has noticed the similarities between the two QBs.

"In this division, we think that the guys who have had success are the big, strong-armed guys," he said. "All four teams kind of have that big guy who can throw it, so we felt that if we were going to keep up, he (Flacco) is the kind of guy that we would need."

Interestingly, Flacco returns to the city that he never had the chance to play in.

Flacco was recruited out of high school from the New Jersey area to eventually become the starting quarterback at the University of Pittsburgh. But Flacco spent two years on the bench backing up former Panthers signal-caller Tyler Palko before getting frustrated and leaving the program.

So Flacco transferred to Delaware, and despite his small-school status, impressed scouts enough to become the No. 18 overall pick of the Ravens.

"It's kind of weird that my first start in Pittsburgh will be on Monday night in an NFL game, not a college game," Flacco said. "But I'm not really looking at that. It's an NFL game. It's Monday night, and it should be a lot of fun to go out there and play a division opponent."

And it's two AFC North division opponents that can't get along.

Let the head-knocking begin.

"It's going to be a slugfest," Colon said. "It's going to be two dogs in a cage, and one of us [gets] to walk out of there."