<
>

With first place on the line, Ravens and Steelers will battle like it's 2012

play
Mosley on Harbaugh: 'He keeps it real with us' (2:17)

Ravens LB C.J. Mosley joins SportsCenter and discusses the leadership qualities of coach John Harbaugh, preparing for an opponent such as Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and enjoying Alabama's tremendous season. (2:17)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- First place in the AFC North is on the line Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

What's surprising is this marks the first time since November 2012 that these rivals are battling each other for the top of the division.

The stakes might not be enough to spark a feud that has lost star power -- even Ben Roethlisberger reportedly won't play Sunday -- and big-game luster. It has invigorated a Ravens team that has lost four straight games and failed to win a game in October.

"We're seven games in, we're one game out of first in the division, and we're playing the team that's first in the division, which is our archrival," said coach John Harbaugh, whose team is coming off a bye. "What more could you ask for than that?"

The Ravens (3-4) are fortunate to be playing in a disappointing AFC North, which currently doesn't have a team on a winning streak. Baltimore would sit in last place if it was in the NFC East and would trail New England by three games if it was in the AFC East.

In the AFC North, the Ravens need to beat the Steelers (4-3) -- a team likely starting a backup quarterback along with having the No. 27 defense -- to move into first place. It would go a long way to turning around a season that has spiraled downward with losses to the Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins, New York Giants and New York Jets by a combined 19 points.

"I'd love to be 7-0 and have [the Steelers] chasing us, but we're a game behind them," Harbaugh said. "We're chasing them. We've been there before. I can't wait."

The Ravens and Steelers were once the two most dominating teams in the division, winning it nine of 11 times between 2002 and 2012. But the Bengals have won the AFC North in two of the last three years, which is the time when the Baltimore-Pittsburgh rivalry lost the likes of Ray Lewis, Hines Ward, Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu.

What could help the Ravens overtake the Steelers on Sunday is the return of some marquee players. Linebacker Terrell Suggs (biceps) and guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) already came back to practice last week, and wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. (ankle) and linebacker C.J. Mosley (hamstring) are expected to return after the bye.

The fact that the Ravens are playing the Steelers gives an extra incentive for players to get back on the field as soon as possible.

"Our greatest opponents always bring the best out of you," Suggs said. "It is a good opportunity to come back and play against those guys. Everybody knows what it is riding on it, so it is going to be a big game. I want to be a part of it."

Beating a Roethlisberger-less Steelers and the winless Cleveland Browns (0-8) in a five-day span would provide a fresh start for Baltimore, especially if it can get close to full strength. It would also build much-needed momentum for the Ravens, who still have road games against three first-place teams -- Dallas (6-1), New England (7-1) and Pittsburgh -- as well as a trip to Cincinnati, where they haven't won since 2012.

"We can accomplish everything we want to accomplish," Harbaugh said. "That's the thing that's exciting. That's all you should ever focus on. I don't know what else you would look at."