These franchises have more history with each other than they have with any other team in the NFL. They have played at least twice every season since 1950, because before the Ravens were the Ravens they were the original Cleveland Browns. They have been in the same division since the 1970 merger, and since the Ravens were formed in 1996, one or the other has won the division title 10 times.
To listen to Mike Tomlin, though, the word to describe the 33rd meeting between the Steelers and Ravens is not familiarity but uncertainty.
"As I sit here today, I am probably a little bit more uneasy than I normally am when we play these guys, because they have so many new guys that we have to account for," said Tomlin during his Tuesday news conference. "I think that's something that needs to be stated up front about this. They probably know more about us than we know about them. I think (General Manager) Ozzie Newsome and company have been active this offseason in terms of improving their team. And it's evident when you look at preseason tape when you look at some of the new guys that they have playing positions for them."
The Ravens are the same in that they still have Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata on defense, and Joe Flacco and Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin on offense. But there also have been a lot of changes to the Ravens since these teams last met in the AFC Divisional Round of the 2010 playoffs.
Gone from the Baltimore offense are tight end Todd Heap, wide receiver Derrick Mason and running back Willis McGahee, and the defense is without nose tackle Kelly Gregg, cornerback Josh Wilson and safety Dawan Landry. The Ravens either had replacements at the ready, or they drafted them last April, but where the team might be most unsettled is along the offensive line.
Of the group that figures to start the game against the Steelers, left tackle Bryant McKinnie will be playing in his first game with the Ravens, Ben Grubbs returns as the starting left guard, center Matt Birk missed the whole preseason while recovering from injury, right guard Marshal Yanda used to be the right tackle and right tackle Michael Oher used to be the left tackle. If this quintet in this configuration actually starts the game against the Steelers, it will be the first time they ever have lined up this way in a game.
"It's the natural discomfort that comes with the first week of the season in many instances," said Tomlin. "Those guys have played a lot of football. They know how to play. Matt Birk hadn't played a lot in the preseason but I know Matt Birk personally. What you see is what you get. This guy will be ready to play no doubt. Bryant McKinney of course is a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Michael Oher has been there although he has been working at left, he has been there. So, it may be a factor but I don't think it will be significant in their case."
This is a matchup that often defies statistics and depth charts and anything else having to do with what's printed on paper, because when the Steelers and Ravens meet it always seems to come down to elements of the sport that are impossible to diagram. And that's the way it is with all true rivalries.
"Who is angry, who is not. What is said and what is not said. We all know that is going to be irrelevant when the ball is kicked off this Sunday," said Tomlin. "The root of the matter is, we have two very good football teams with the same intentions, and that is to dominate the AFC North and put themselves in positions to chase the Lombardi. That is why we will always have issues with these guys because I expect that their goals will be unchanging like ours. So two trains are on the track. See you Sunday."