Ray Rice-less Ravens host Steelers in Thursday night NFL showcase

Baltimore, trying to move onward from the negative news their former running back generated, plays host to Pittsburgh in an early AFC North division tilt.

Patrick Semansky/AP
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) leads the team huddle during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Baltimore, Md., Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014.

Even with all the Ray Rice news happening this week, his now-former team, the Baltimore Ravens, has been getting ready to play a game Thursday night against a division opponent. The Pittsburgh Steelers come to Baltimore, knowing the Ravens always play them tough, regardless of location.

The Ravens are looking to bounce back after a dispiriting home-opening loss to Cincinnati, another AFC North foe, last Sunday. Baltimore's once-vaunted defense managed to keep the Bengals out of the end zone for three-plus quarters, but did give up the go-ahead 77-yard touchdown reception late in the game.

The Steelers won their home opener against Cleveland last Sunday, but it wasn't the smoothest ride. Pittsburgh jumped out to a 27-3 lead at halftime, only to see the Browns score 24 unanswered points and tie the game at 27-all. Ben Roethlisberger then guided the Steeler offense deep enough into Browns territory to set up Shaun Suisam's 41-yard field goal as time expired.

Le'Veon Bell racked up 109 yards rushing for the Steelers last weekend. A similar effort will be needed against the Ravens, partly to keep the ball away from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and his talented group of wide receivers. Flacco completed 35 of 62 passes against the Bengals, spreading the ball to seven different receivers. The longest pass play was an 80-yard touchdown reception to the newest Raven wideout, Steve Smith, who came over from the Carolina Panthers in the off-season.

Because of the strength of both teams' defenses, these Steeler-Raven games are usually low-scoring affairs. Going back to the 2008 season, the average margin of victory between these two is just over two points. That trend actually goes further back, despite some blowouts, to when the Raven franchise came on the NFL scene in 1996.

"I think it's the best rivalry in football. Thursday can't get here fast enough," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs told USAToday.com. "I think they're going to be excited, and we're definitely going to be excited and motivated and ready to play."

The Ravens-Steelers game can be seen on both CBS and the NFL Network, beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern time Thursday.

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