It's a game fans can't wait for, one the NFL wants featured on national television and players look forward to playing in.
It's Steelers-Ravens. And it doesn't get any more intense in the regular season than it will this Sunday night in Baltimore. Both teams are 8-3 and first place in the AFC North is at stake.
"It's a significant game," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "It's awesome to be a part of significant games in December. We're two 8-3 football teams. If you want to be a division winner you have to go on the road and win division games. They did it earlier in the year against us. We're given an opportunity to go to their place and try and get a victory. That's the only way to get it done.
"The secret in this thing is that there is no secret. If you want to be a dominant team, if you want to be a good team, if you want to make a splash, you have to take your show on the road in hostile environments against known opponents, familiar opponents, and make the significant plays that are necessary to win. That's going to be our focus in terms of our preparation this week. I can run down the list of superlatives regarding the Ravens. I think we all know what they are capable of."
What they were capable of in October was coming from behind to defeat the Steelers 17-14 at Heinz Field when Joe Flacco hit T.J. Houshmandzadeh for an 18-yard touchdown with just 32 seconds left on the clock. Tomlin knows that it will be an even tougher environment this week on the road at M&T Bank Stadium and he expects it to be a battle to the end again.
"This game is probably going to come down to a last possession or two in a hard-fought game in a hostile environment like it always does," said Tomlin. "So we're excited about that opportunity. We have an opportunity to go into a hostile environment versus a good team in prime time football and win. When you look back at our journey that has been the 2010 season, we haven't been successful in that situation. In New Orleans we didn't play as well as we'd like to have played. So this week provides an opportunity on that front for us, to kind of exorcise the man versus himself battle. We got a desire to be good in all areas, situations and circumstances, and really the opponent is irrelevant.
"We have an opportunity as a football team to go into a hostile environment versus a good team on prime time television and seek a victory. That victory will put us in decent position in terms of some of the other things we'd like to do. But all our eyes are focused on this opportunity and preparation for it."
In the earlier meeting this year between the two teams the Steelers were without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But before that is chalked up as an advantage this time around for the black and gold, the Ravens played without All-Pro safety Ed Reed. "The significant thing or difference for them in this game, on the back end, is the presence of Ed Reed," said Tomlin. "And we all know what the presence of Ed Reed means, proceed with caution when attacking him vertically down the field. Time and time again he shows that he's capable of making plays, game changing plays. He surveys the deep middle of that field, but he's a sideline-to-sideline capable guy. This is an unselfish, top-notch and quality playmaker. So we have to reckon with him.
"If there's a significant difference in preparation for this game than the last one, it's the acknowledgment in this existence of Ed Reed. Of course we didn't have Ben last game; they didn't have Ed Reed. Those two things probably cancel each other out."