Are the Steelers a threat to the Ravens this season?

AFC North, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers

After seeing the Baltimore Ravens win the AFC North the last two seasons, are the Pittsburgh Steelers ready to challenge their archival once again?

The AFC North has belonged to the Baltimore Ravens the last two years.

The AFC Central-turned-North division has given us some of the greatest rivalries in the league. The Cincinnati Bengals were born out of spite for the Cleveland Browns. The Ravens used to be the Browns. And the Bengals absolutely hate the Pittsburgh Steelers. Of course, one rivalry dominates the rest in the AFC North.

Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

These are two of the league’s most well-run franchises. For that reason, the AFC North has belonged to either Baltimore or Pittsburgh since 2002’s realignment. Both rivals have won a pair of Super Bowls in the 21st century.

Entering 2020, Baltimore is the top banana in the AFC North, but is Pittsburgh ready to take back bragging rights in the division? Will the Steelers be a serious threat to the Ravens this season?

From Pittsburgh’s standpoint, 2020 should be the year the Steelers bounce back and return to the playoffs. There was too much internal nonsense in 2018 to be a top-six team in the AFC. Last year, saw star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tear a ligament in his elbow before undergoing Tommy John surgery. So we got a lot of not great from Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges in 2019.

If Roethlisberger plays like the soon-to-be Hall of Famer he is, Pittsburgh’s offense can perform and complement the best defense the Steelers have had in a decade. Defensive end T.J. Watt and defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick are emerging stars. Head coach Mike Tomlin will have a defense on par with the ones led by Troy Polamalu and James Harrison in the late 2000s.

So we should expect the Steelers to vie for a playoff spot next season, especially after the postseason field expands from six to seven teams in both conferences. Pittsburgh should be better, but where does Baltimore fit in all of this?

No, the Ravens are not going 14-2 again. They still might win the division, but teams don’t go 14-2 in back-to-back seasons in a league driven by parity. If Lamar Jackson improves as a passer at the quarterback position, the Ravens can three-peat in the AFC North with something around a 12-4 record. Their defense will be incredible, but the offensive side of the ball is the variance here.

Ultimately, Pittsburgh should be viewed as a threat in Baltimore’s eyes. The Ravens would be foolish to look at their biggest rival any other way. As long as Roethlisberger can still play at a high level, Pittsburgh will remain a threat to vie for a division title in the AFC North. If Jackson regresses in year three out of Louisville, the gap between No. 1 and No. 2 teams will only shrink.

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