The Ravens-Steelers rivalry has been one of the NFL's top rivalries over the past decade due to not only the quality these two sides bring to the field each time they meet, but also thanks to the sheer physicality and contempt they hold for each other.
What the rivalry doesn't always have, though, is the sense of desperation that both teams will possess.
"There's always been that animosity, that hatred and there's going to be that extra layer of desperation," NBC Sports' Mike Florio said as part of NBC's preview to the Thanksgiving night matchup. "This is going to be the absolute best shot the Ravens can provide on Thursday night against Pittsburgh on a short week. And the Steelers, who have done their share of sleepwalking while still winning, better be ready for it."
Baltimore and Pittsburgh come into Thanksgiving with contrasting narratives surrounding their seasons thus far. Coronavirus concerns aside, the Ravens haven't quite lived up to the lofty expectations heaped onto them after such a dominant stretch offensively this time last year. For the Steelers, it's about playing more like their undefeated record indicates.
"They really do have to do something in Baltimore because the season really is on the brink," Florio said. "Mike Tomlin has recognized that they have to match the level of desperation Baltimore is going to be bringing to town. This is it for the Ravens: If they lose, they have no chance at winning the division, and the chances of making the playoffs are going to plummet."
In either case, both teams will be more desperate than usual to get a win over their rivals. Baltimore's mission is clear: Win and stay alive in the AFC playoff picture. On the other sideline, making sure that doesn't happen will be the key motivating factor.
"But the heat of this rivalry, don't think that Pittsburgh wouldn't like to put that fifth loss on them and put them out of things," said NBC Sports analyst Tony Dungy.
NBC Sports analyst Chris Simms expressed similar sentiments.
"You talk about matching the level of desperation for Pittsburgh," Simms said. "For them, the big prize in the sky should be you have a chance to deal the death blow against a team that would be a big deal in the playoffs. Simms Because you don't want to see them divisional weekend or whatever after they get a wildcard game and maybe got some momentum. So, this is their chance to cancel them out."
"Get them now, so you don't have to later," Florio agreed.
Still, beating your arch-rivals twice in the same season isn't an easy task for the Steelers to complete. For them to do so, Pittsburgh would become just the 11th NFL team in the Super Bowl era to start a season 11-0, and the first to do so since Cam Newton's Carolina Panthers started their season 14-0 in 2014.
But as Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said after their win against Jacksonville, nothing is perfect in Pittsburgh besides their record.
"You look at this team, it doesn't seem like a 10-0 team," Dungy said. "They're struggling against some of the weaker teams in the league. They're winning on the last play of the game-type of situations. They're not doing anything great, except they're winning the turnover battle. They can get better, they just don't look like a 10-0 team to me."
Florio agreed with Dungy, adding that the fact that people don't regard the Steelers as highly as some of the 10-0 teams of the past can actually play into their hands against Baltimore. In a shortened week that required the Ravens undivided attention to stop this two-game skid, off-field distractions from positive coronavirus tests and facility shutdowns may be preventing the implementation of necessary adjustments.
Baltimore's defense will face a different attack than the two previous offenses who've ended up with more points on the board in the Titans and Patriots. Pittsburgh's quick-fire pass offense spearheaded by Ben Roethlisberger will be a change up from the run-dominant offenses that have taken it to the Ravens interior with some smash-ball gameplans.
On offense, the Ravens will be without two of their key running backs in Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins, who both were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Though their 2020 season has been "a far cry from what their 2019 season was," as Florio puts it, they can be thankful that their schedule does get easier after Thursday.
Baltimore will play downtrodden teams like the Cowboys, Jaguars, and Giants, around their final two divisional games against the Browns and Bengals.
The Steelers, however, with a loss against Baltimore on Thursday could spiral toward some more losses as they enter the most challenging section of their schedule during the final weeks. Besides Cincinnati, Pittsburgh plays three 7-3 teams after the 6-4 Ravens: Buffalo, Indianapolis, and Cleveland.
With desperation on both sides, the 53rd meeting between these teams should be an epic one.