FB Lorenzo Neal, TE Aaron Walker, TE Keith Heinrich, G Adrien Clarke, DE Marques Douglas, DT Kelly Talavou, OLB Brendon Ayanbadejo, CB Fabian Washington, CB Frank Walker, CB Lenny Walls, S Jim Leonhard.
QB Joe Flacco, RB Ray Rice, RB Allen Patrick, WR Marcus Smith, WR Justin Harper, OT/G Oniel Cousins, G David Hale, ILB Tavares Gooden, S Tom Zbikowski, S Haruki Nakamura.
QB Steve McNair, RB Musa Smith, RB Mike Anderson, FB Justin Green, WR Devard Darling, OT Jonathan Ogden, C Mike Flynn, DT Zarnell Fitch, ILB Mike Smith, CB Lenny Walls, S Jamaine Winborne, S Gerome Sapp, KR B.J. Sams.
2008 Baltimore Ravens Offense:
I heard all I needed to hear when prior to the draft, ESPN reported that the Ravens were unlikely to take Matt Ryan because they were confident with Steve McNair and Kyle Boller at quarterback. A few weeks later, McNair announced his retirement, which is something everyone saw coming. McNair led Baltimore to a 13-3 record in 2006, but suffered way too many injuries and went through a barrage of surgeries recently. I have the ultimate respect for McNair, but I just hope he can walk and function normally 20 years from now.
Despite all that, it's laughable that the Ravens had faith in two signal callers, one who was done and the other who was never anything to begin with. For the sake of all its fans, I hope Baltimore doesn't consider going back to Boller. One of Brian Billick's pet projects, Boller has just one more career touchdown (45) than interceptions (44), but I don't need to spit out all of Boller's statistics at you to tell you how much he sucks. Boller is renowned for his horrendous quarterbacking, and it's a miracle he has been able to hold on to a starting job for four years.
The Ravens need to see what they have with Troy Smith (as possible trade bait) before moving on to Joe Flacco once he's ready. Flacco, once an unknown out of Delaware, soared up draft boards because he had the most explosive arm in the 2008 draft class. I do have major concerns about Flacco's accuracy and lacking mobility. His ceiling is Drew Bledsoe. His floor? Well, let's just say Baltimore fans are very familiar with a quarterback who: A) Skyrocketed up draft boards with strong workouts. B) Has a very strong arm. C) Lacks accuracy. D) Isn't the most mobile guy in the world. If you don't know who I'm talking about, read the second paragraph of this write-up.
Similar to Boller's tenure as starter in Baltimore, Flacco figures to have a mix of solid supporters and massive voids on offense. Beginning with the former, Willis McGahee didn't disappoint after signing a 7-year, $40.1 million deal last spring, as he rushed for 1,207 yards and seven touchdowns despite receiving just 294 carries. He also caught 43 passes. The Ravens also spent a second-round selection on Ray Rice. Though they could have filled a larger need, Rice should get enough carries to keep McGahee fresh in December; McGahee's yards-per-carry average dropped off significantly after the team's epic 27-24 loss to the Patriots on Dec. 3. Rice should also prove to be an effective pass-catcher out of the backfield.
Blocking for McGahee last year was a great offensive line that unfortunately lost its best player. That, of course, would be left tackle Jonathan Ogden, a future first-ballot Hall of Famer. Don't underestimate how important losing a franchise left tackle can be; just look at the Chiefs after Willie Roaf called it quits. Unlike Kansas City, however, Baltimore has a contingency plan. Jared Gaither, chosen in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL Supplemental Draft, was a first-round prospect before getting kicked out of Maryland. At 6-9, 350, the Ravens have a lot of faith in Gaither, holding off on an offensive tackle until the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft despite seeing Ogden retire. The only thing hurting Gaither is lack of experience; he started just two games late last year. Something tells me John Harbaugh will hold off on inserting Flacco into the lineup until he's confident that Gaither can effectively block his blind side.
Actually, lack of experience is the only thing that hurts the rest of Baltimore's front; guards Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda are entering their sophomore seasons, while center Jason Brown and right tackle Adam Terry will both be fourth-year pros. Grubbs and Brown are the most talented players in the group, unless of course Gaither establishes himself as a dominant force. The Ravens could do better than Yanda and Terry, but I wouldn't call either a liability.
Meanwhile, Flacco can only hope that Derrick Mason can maintain the sterling production he had in 2007. After a miserable 750-yard 2006 campaign, Mason registered 103 receptions, 1,087 yards and five touchdowns. Mason is 34, so there's a good chance he could slow down, especially in a new offense. If he does, I don't know whom else Flacco can lean on besides Todd Heap. A 28-year-old tight end, Heap is usually good for about 800 receiving yards and six touchdowns, assuming he stays healthy; Heap played in just six contests last year (torn hamstring).
Starting opposite of Mason is Mark Clayton, who really disappointed after notching 67 catches, 939 yards and five touchdowns in 2006. Last season, Clayton had just 48 receptions, 531 yards and no scores. The Ravens don't really have anything else at receiver unless someone like Demetrius Williams or rookie Marcus Smith steps up.
Baltimore was 24th in offense last season, but it's unlikely the team will be able to match that, or its 17.2 points-per-game average again. Not with a rookie quarterback, uncertaintly at left tackle and a potential drop-off from its No. 1 receiver.
2008 Baltimore Ravens Defense:
In my Cleveland Browns season preview, I cited their offense as an example of how difficult the NFL is to predict. Baltimore's defense could be another. Despite maintaining great talents like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs, the Ravens' stop unit finished 22nd in the NFL, as it surrendered 24 points per game. When a group on a football team really disappoints, you have to look at age and injury, and determine if either caused the unexpected decline. In Baltimore's case it was both.
The Ravens' situation actually reminds me of the predicament Tampa Bay was in a few years ago. I predicted the Buccaneers to finish poorly after they qualified for the postseason in 2005. My reasoning was that their core group of defenders (Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, etc.) were all old and due for a letdown. Well, half of Baltimore's defense faces similar problems.
Starting up front, defensive end Trevor Pryce registered 13 sacks in his first year with the Ravens in 2006. However, multiple injuries limited him to five contests and two sacks last season. Pryce should be healthy, but don't be surprised if he can't match his 13-sack production, as he'll be celebrating his 33rd birthday in August. Right next to Pryce, nose tackle Kelly Gregg will be 32 in November. I don't see Gregg slowing down just yet, but age is definitely starting to become a concern.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The big name on Baltimore's defense the past decade has been Ray Lewis, who just turned 33. Lewis has entered his contract year, so this could be the last great season we see out of the future first-ballot Hall of Famer. And speaking of contracts, Suggs is holding out; no surprise that he wasn't a big fan of being franchised. Suggs will eventually report to camp, but who knows how in shape he'll be?
The Ravens couldn't stop the pass last year. Besides the fact that Pryce's injuries limited the defense to 32 sacks, corners Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle were hampered with injuries. McAlister, once one of the premier corners in the NFL, is coming off knee surgery at the age of 31. Rolle is even worse off; the 32-year-old is way past his prime and had trouble staying on the field with epilepsy and shoulder problems.
Beginning with the positive now, the reason why Baltimore was 20th versus the pass and not 30th was the play of safeties Ed Reed and Dawan Landry. Reed had seven interceptions in 2007, while Landry, who was coming off a five-pick rookie campaign, regressed a bit but still played pretty well. Landry reportedly looked great in pre-camp workouts, so there's a good chance he'll rebound off his sophomore slump. Corner Fabian Washington, acquired for a fourth-round selection from Oakland, isn't a great player by any means, but he'll be an upgrade over Rolle.
Another player who looks primed for a solid season is second-year rush linebacker Antwan Barnes. Barnes put on some weight and looks as quick as ever. He had two sacks in no starts as a rookie, the same amount as starter Jarret Johnson had in 16 starts. Barnes should be able to displace Johnson in the lineup across from Suggs. In the middle of the linebacking corps, Bart Scott, like Lewis, is also in a contract year. It actually makes more sense to re-sign Scott to a long-term deal because at 28, he's just a year removed from registering 9.5 sacks. Giving a big contract to a 34-year-old makes a lot less sense.
Meanwhile, the man making things happen up front and allowing the linebackers to make plays is Haloti Ngata. The Oregon product played in every game last year but was hobbled by knee problems. Ngata is 100 percent, so he and Gregg will once again make sure Baltimore's defense is ranked among the league's best against the run.
The Ravens are getting a big portion of their personnel back from injury, so under normal circumstances, expecting them to rebound defensively would be realistic. Unfortunately, most of the guys who were hurt last year are past their primes. I'm not sure if Baltimore's stop unit will be ranked as low as 22nd again, but it definitely won't be close to the top 10.
2008 Baltimore Ravens Schedule and Intangibles:
Let's hope John Harbaugh can get Baltimore to put forth a bit of effort once in a while. Following last year's bye, the Ravens went 1-8, with the lone victory coming against Pittsburgh's backups. One of the losses was to the 1-15 Dolphins. Five of the other seven defeats were by an average of 21.6 points. Meanwhile, the best team they played in this stretch, the undefeated New England Patriots, barely survived. It's really disturbing that Baltimore tried hard for that one game and didn't even show up to the others. But I guess we can blame Brian Billick for that.
At age 40, Matt Stover is still one of the top kickers in the NFL. He hit 29-of-32 attempts in 2004, 30-of-34 in 2005, 28-of-30 in 2006 and 27-of-32 last season (8-of-13 from 40-plus). I wouldn't count on him making any more 50-yarders though.
Second-year punter Sam Koch had a respectable average of 43.6, but hit just 20-of-78 kicks inside the opposing 20, which is a pretty poor figure.
The third-round selection the Ravens used on Kansas State receiver Yamon Figurs has already paid dividends. Figurs had two touchdowns off returns, while Ed Reed chipped in with a third. In addition, Baltimore didn't allow any scores on special teams, and the longest return it surrendered was 50 yards.
I thought a last-place schedule was supposed to be easy... Check out whom Baltimore has to go up against: Steelers (twice), Browns (twice), Titans, Colts, Giants, Eagles, Cowboys and Jaguars. Going 2-8 against those squads would be a victory.
2008 Baltimore Ravens Analysis: Let me state the obvious. The Ravens have a ton of work to do. Even if they develop Joe Flacco quickly, find a legitimate No. 2 receiver and discover that Jared Gaither can be their franchise left tackle, they still need to get younger on defense.
Unless Flacco busts, Baltimore should be back to being a playoff contender in two or three seasons. This year, unfortunately, the team will once again find itself in the AFC North cellar. If the Ravens aren't drafting eighth or higher in the 2009 NFL Draft, I'll be extremely shocked.
Projection: 3-13 (4th in AFC North)
2008 Fantasy Football Rankings:
Joe Flacco: There's no reason for Joe Flacco not to be in the starting lineup by midseason. Kyle Boller stinks and Troy Smith doesn't have much upside. Then again, there's no reason for you to draft Flacco. Even if he becomes a solid pro, it's doubtful he does anything as a rookie.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,200 passing yards. 6 passing TDs. 0 rushing yards. 0 rushing TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 96.
Willis McGahee: In his first year as a Raven, Willis McGahee totaled 1,207 yards at a 4.1 average. He also had 43 receptions for 231 receiving yards and eight total touchdowns. Even more impressive is that McGahee did all this with defenses loading the box against him, as no one had any respect for Kyle Boller or Troy Smith. Jonathan Ogden is gone, but Jared Gaither doesn't seem like a huge dropoff in the run-blocking department. Keep an eye out for Ray Rice; the rookie runner may steal some catches from McGahee.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,150 rushing yards. 150 receiving yards. 8 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 178.
Todd Heap: Todd Heap has been a consistent target for Baltimore quarterbacks since 2002, but he played in only five full contests last season, thanks to a torn hamstring. Heap is fully healthy, and could present solid value with some fantasy owners subconsciously downgrading him. Don't do that; Heap is good for about 70 catches, 800 yards and six scores.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 800 receiving yards. 6 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 116.
Derrick Mason: After looking like he was regressing at a result of entering his mid-30s in 2006, Derrick Mason came out of nowhere to register 103 catches, 1,087 yards and five touchdowns. I don't know if he can do that again; the quarterbacking situation is even worse with a rookie under center, while his age (34) can only become more of a factor.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 750 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 93.
Mark Clayton: Stay away from Mark Clayton until he gets his quarterbacking situation figured out, but I'd rather draft Clayton over Derrick Mason, simply because of upside. After notching 67 catches, 939 yards and five touchdowns in 2006, Clayton disappointed with 48 receptions, 531 yards and no scores. There's an opportunity to buy low here, but I'd rather wait until 2009 to do that.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 650 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 83.
Demetrius Williams: No reason to take a No. 3 receiver who has a terrible situation at quarterback. Demetrius Williams does have potential though, so using a late-round pick in a keeper league on him wouldn't be a terrible idea.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 350 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 47.
Matt Stover: Still one of the top kickers in the game, though Matt Stover's days of kicking 50-yarders is over. Stover was 27-of-32 last season, including 8-of-12 from 40-49.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 28-32 FG (0-1 50+). 25 XP.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 118.
Baltimore Defense: The Ravens had 60 sacks and 28 interceptions in 2006. Last season, those numbers dropped to 32 and 17. This year figures to be more like the latter, with most of the defense either rapidly aging or coming off injury. I'd start Baltimore against the likes of Miami (Week 7) and Oakland (Week 8), but that's pretty much it.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Spot-starting Defense.
2008 NFL Draft Grade:
I'm almost always a fan of trading down, and the Ravens picked up numerous selections for going from No. 8 to 26 ...
It took Baltimore a while to address the cornerback position, and it didn't look like they were going to. But the team traded a fourth-round selection for Fabian Washington, which was a solid move. Washington, 24, has starting experience. He's not a great corner, but he's certainly a solid nickel. What's interesting is that Washington gets to go from one Ryan brother to another (Rob to Rex) ... Can Ray Rice be the next Maurice Jones-Drew? Wouldn't shock me. ... Tavares Gooden should be able to take over for Ray Lewis in 2009. Lewis' contract is up after this season, and given his age (34 next spring) and Baltimore's cap issues, he likely won't be back for the money he'll be asking for ... Haruki Nakamura could be the steal of the draft. He's a hard hitter and always seems to be at the right place at the right time. He won't start because Ed Reed and Dawan Landry are beasts, but he'll be excellent depth.
I'm not sure why the Ravens traded up from 26 to 18 in order to get Joe Flacco. Who was going to take Flacco between 19 and 25? Flacco would have been a decent selection at 26, but I'm not sure why Baltimore panicked ... I don't like Marcus "Hands of Stone" Smith at No. 106. Ravens fans will quickly become frustrated by his inconsistency ...
Why David Hale at 133 with Carl Nicks available? Why not another corner for depth? ... I'm surprised Baltimore didn't address the receiver and cornerback positions sooner.
Grade give on 4/29/08: B
2008 NFL Draft Picks:
18. Joe Flacco, QB, Delaware
I liked that Baltimore traded down, so it caught me off guard when it traded up for Joe Flacco. Why move at all? Who was going to take Flacco from 19-25? Also, I'm not sure if Flacco is the right guy. He has great size and arm strength, but he has no experience against top-level competition. I know, Tony Romo and Kurt Warner, but neither was a first-round pick. The fact remains that Flacco couldn't beat out Tyler Palko in Pittsburgh. I'm not sure if the Ravens made the right decision. (Pick Grade: C)
55. Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers
I like Ray Rice a lot, and I think he can bolster Baltimore's running game like Maurice Jones-Drew has done for Jacksonville. I was under the impression the Ravens liked Cory Ross. Guess not. (Pick Grade: A)
71. Tavares Gooden, ILB, Miami
Looks like Ray Lewis won't be back after his contract expires after this season. Tavares Gooden, another linebacker from the U, figures to be a solid replacement, though it'll be difficult to fill Lewis' shoes. That said, where's the cornerback? (Pick Grade: B)
86. Tom Zbikowski, SS, Notre Dame
The Ravens needed safety depth, but what about a corner? Don't the Ravens realize they have two archaic corners starting? (Pick Grade: C)
99. Oniel Cousins, OT/G, UTEP
Cornerback? Cornerback!? Oniel Cousins is solid value here, and the Ravens needed to address their offensive line, but I don't get why they aren't taking care of such a dire position of need. (Pick Grade: B)
106. Marcus Smith, WR, New Mexico
I didn't expect Marcus "Hands of Stone" Smith to be drafted before the sixth round. Hello, Ravens, you need a corner! (Pick Grade: F)
133. David Hale, OT, Weber State
One offensive lineman surprised me. Two? I guess Jared Gaither isn't all he's cracked up to be. This is a reach, especially with Carl Nicks available. (Pick Grade: D)
206. Haruki Nakamura, S, Cincinnati
POTENTIAL STEAL OF THE DRAFT. Haruki Nakamura is a nightmare for opposing offenses. The Ravens just drafted a winner. (Pick Grade: A)
215. Justin Harper, WR, Virginia Tech
I didn't think much of the Marcus Smith pick, and I don't like Justin Harper much either. (Pick Grade: C)
240. Allen Patrick, RB, Oklahoma
Like Cory Byrd, Allen Patrick is a solid pick in the seventh round. There's a lot of competition at running back, however, so I'm not sure if he'll make the team. (Pick Grade: B)
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A super, cutting-edge, in-depth analysis of how Baltimore's 2007 season went down: Fumble. Interception. Fumble. Three-and-out. Three-and-out. Fumble. Interception. Fumble. Three-and-out. Fumble. Interception. Fumble. Three-and-out. Fumble. Three-and-out. Interception. Fumble. Three-and-out. Fumble. Three-and-out. Interception. Fumble. Three-and-out. Fumble. Interception. Fumble. Three-and-out. Fumble. Interception. Fumble. Three-and-out. Fumble. Interception. Fumble. Three-and-out. Fumble. Interception. Three-and-out. Fumble. Three-and-out. Fumble. Interception. Fumble. Three-and-out.
Ravens acquire DE Marques Douglas from Buccaneers for a late 2009 pick and a conditional 2010 pick
Ravens sign OLB Terrell Suggs to franchise tender
Ravens sign TE Keith Heinrich
Ravens sign FB Lorenzo Neal
Ravens cut FB Justin Green
Ravens sign TE Aaron Walker
Ravens cut CB Lenny Walls
Ravens cut ILB Mike Smith
Ravens announce retirement of OT Jonathan Ogden
Ravens cut S Jamaine Winborne
Ravens sign CB Lenny Walls
Ravens sign QB Xavier Lee
Ravens cut DT Zarnell Fitch
Ravens sign G Adrien Clarke
Ravens sign DT Kelly Talavou
Ravens sign WR Kerry Reed
Ravens sign S Jim Leonhard
Ravens receive CB Fabian Washington from the Raiders for a 2008 pick
Ravens re-sign G Jason Brown
Ravens announce retirement of QB Steve McNair
Ravens re-sign S Jamaine Winborne
Ravens re-sign ILB Robert McCune
Ravens re-sign DT J'Vonne Parker
Ravens re-sign DE Amon Gordon
Ravens re-sign ILB Nick Greisen
Ravens sign CB Frank Walker
Ravens sign OLB Brendon Ayanbadejo
Ravens cut C Mike Flynn
Ravens cut RB Mike Anderson
Ravens franchise DE/OLB Terrell Suggs
Quarterback: Instead of coaching, Brian Billick will be spending his afternoons and evenings in his Vermont home with Kyle Boller by his side for the rest of his life. Let's wish those two all the happiness in the world. Moving forward, Baltimore needs a legitimate quarterback if it wants any shot at navigating deep into the postseason. Matt Ryan at No. 8 overall seems like the most obvious choice. Trading for Donovan McNabb is also an option, though I wouldn't do that. Drafted Joe Flacco; signed Xavier Lee
Cornerback: The Ravens struggled against the pass because Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle both are regressing rapidly. Baltimore needs a young, talented corner or two immediately. Tracy Porter, Terrell Thomas, Dwight Lowery and the like are options in Round 2. Traded for Fabian Washington; signed Frank Walker and Lenny Walls
Outside Linebacker: Unless the Ravens can somehow retain Terrell Suggs - which will be difficult given their cap situation - they'll need a new pass-rushing linebacker. Without cap room or tons of draft picks, they might have to rely on second-year Antwan Barnes if Suggs leaves. Franchised Terrell Suggs; signed Brendon Ayanbadejo
Wide Receiver: Derrick Mason shocked everyone by catching 103 passes for 1,087 yards in 2007 despite having nothing but garbage at quarterback. Unfortunately, he just celebrated his 34th birthday. The Ravens need a talented young wide out, should he begin to regress. Drafted Marcus Smith and Justin Harper; signed Kerry Reed
Inside Linebacker: Ray Lewis had the following to say regarding his free-agent status in the Spring of 2009: "Would I play somewhere else? The business creates that ... Purple and black is what I do, but the business side of it, if it takes over, it takes over." Lewis will be 34 in April 2009, and I don't think the Ravens will re-sign him at the money he'll demand. Thus, Baltimore should think about finding his successor sometime soon. Drafted Tavares Gooden; re-signed Nick Greisen
Veteran Offensive Tackle: If Jonathan Ogden retires as rumored, the Ravens will have the youngest set of offensive tackles in the NFL. I'd like to see them add depth to the position, should Jared Gaither, Marshal Yanda or Adam Terry begin to struggle. Maurice Williams would be a cheap, effective signing.
Veteran Interior Lineman: If Chris Chester beats out Mike Flynn as starting center, Baltimore's interior line will have a combined four years of experience going into the 2008 season. Signed Adrien Clarke
Defensive Line Depth: The Ravens barely have anything behind Kelly Gregg, Haloti Ngata and Trevor Pryce. This can be addressed in the fifth round or later. Also keep in mind that Pryce will be 33 after the 2008 season and could be a cap casualty.
Baltimore Ravens Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 17): $5 million
Terrell Suggs, OLB. Age: 26. Signed franchise tender with Ravens (1 year, $8.5 million)
Terrell Suggs has garnered nine or more sacks in four of his five NFL seasons. He's expected to get tons of cash from the Ravens, regardless of whether they switch to the 4-3 or not.
Jason Brown (RFA), G. Age: 25. Re-signed with Ravens (1 year, $1.417 million)
Jason Brown did a solid job replacing Edwin Mulitalo. Look for the Ravens to sign him to a long-term deal.
Devard Darling, WR. Age: 26. Signed with Chiefs
Devard Darling had only 326 yards and three touchdowns last year, but most of that production came in Week 11 and beyond. Darling had 107 yards and a score against the Browns on Nov. 18.
B.J. Sams, CB/KR. Age: 27. Signed with Chiefs (1 year)
B.J. sams was a solid return specialist for the Ravens prior to his ACL tear in September. It remains to be seen if Sams can fully recover from that injury and retain his returning abilities.
Mike Smith, ILB. Age: 27.
Could be solid as a backup if he manages to stay healthy.
Mike Flynn, C. Age: 34. - Signed with Patriots
Musa Smith, RB. Age: 26. - Signed with Jets
Nick Greisen, ILB. Age: 29. - Re-signed with Ravens (3 years, $4 million)
Jamaine Winborne, S. Age: 27.
Gerome Sapp, S. Age: 27.
Mike Smith (RFA), MLB. Age: 27.
Mike Anderson, RB. Age: 34.
Amon Gordon (RFA), DE. Age: 26. - Re-signed with Ravens
Lenny Walls, CB. Age: 28.
Zarnell Fitch, DT. Age: 25. - Signed with Redskins
Divisional Rival History: Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals dominate the Ravens, winning six of seven. Even when Baltimore went 13-3, one of its losses was to Cincinnati. Cleveland Browns: The home squad has won six of eight, though the new Browns swept the old Browns in 2007. Pittsburgh Steelers: The host dominates this rivalry, winning 10 of the previous 11 matchups.