Steelers players pick Ravens over Bengals as their top rival

PITTSBURGH -- Apparently the Pittsburgh Steelers won't give the Cincinnati Bengals the satisfaction of coming in first place in anything.

The on-field theatrics of last season were not enough for Cincinnati to usurp the Baltimore Ravens as the Steelers' top rival, two starting players said at organized team activities this week.

It's very close, though.

"I can't call it -- if I had to pick: Ravens," Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton said. "They got us last year. You want to get the win. That's more important [than the theatrics]."

Steelers-Bengals had a little bit of everything last year, from pregame shoving matches to knee-snapping tackles (literally).

Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was the primary tackler on plays that injured the Steelers' top three offensive players: quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder), wide receiver Antonio Brown (concussion) and running back Le'Veon Bell (knee, torn MCL).

Steelers safety Mike Mitchell and linebacker Ryan Shazier dealt aggressive upper-body hits that angered the Bengals.

Steelers assistants Mike Munchak and Joey Porter got hit with $10,000 fines for scuffling with Bengals players.

Defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt said Cincinnati is always a "very tough, physical game," but acknowledged that the Steelers and Ravens have been playing heated football for a while, too.

The Steelers seem more eager to play the Ravens because Pittsburgh dropped both games in the series last year and five of the past six. Both teams have multiple Super Bowl wins in the NFL's modern era.

The 2015 Steelers went 2-1 against Cincinnati, including the 18-16 AFC wild-card win.

"I'd still say the Ravens," Tuitt said. "We've got to beat them. We beat Cincinnati. We have to beat the Ravens. It's been like that every time [with them]. That's not going to be a focal point. We're taking one game at a time, but especially with those two teams we have to beat them in the division."

When it comes to after-the-whistle physicality, Wheaton knows the fundamental difference in playing each team.

"With the Ravens, that's more in the trenches," Wheaton said. "With the Bengals, it's all over the field. Hopefully it doesn't get too rowdy [in 2016]."