The Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) and the Baltimore Ravens (0-1) do not get along. It’s not a new hatred. Before a playoff showdown in 2001, then–Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa joked that Baltimore fans should follow any Pittsburghers visiting M&T Bank Stadium into the bathroom and “take care of business.” When Todd Heap hobbled, too hurt to stand, to the line of scrimmage during a 2004 meeting, Steelers linebacker Joey Porter pushed him to the ground the second the Ravens hiked the ball, literally adding insult to injury.
As the Ravens moved from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996, they brought a longstanding rivalry for the Steelers with them. Heavy hitters like Siragusa and Porter made sure the other sideline felt their hate — sometimes with a helmet and other times with a microphone. When the 2014 chapter opens Thursday in Baltimore, though, these new stars will take the reins of the rivalry.
Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh, WR
The loss of Emmanuel Sanders created a hole in the Steelers’ offense, but second-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton filled it in Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns, bringing in six receptions for 97 yards. He’s already matched his career total. Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton threw for 301 yards Sunday in a win against Baltimore, and the Steelers will likely follow suit — Ben Roethlisberger threw 44 times the last time these teams met. Wheaton looked stellar against Cleveland and will look to introduce himself to the national audience.
Justin Forsett, Baltimore, RB
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh declined to announce a starting running back for Thursday’s matchup after the team released Ray Rice, but Justin Forsett certainly did his part in Week 1 to earn the majority of carries. The 29-year-old, former 7th-round draft pick, rushed for 70 yards and caught five passes against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers held the Ravens to 82 and 74 rushing yards, respectively, in their two meetings last season, so an improved rushing attack will be vital to the Ravens’ success. Forsett welcomes the challenge, telling reporters Monday that he’s “ready to seize the moment.”
Jarvis Jones, Pittsburgh, LB
Jarvis Jones left a lot to be desired in his rookie year, recording only one sack in 14 games. But the 2013 1st-round draft pick showed signs of promise in the 2014 season opener against Cleveland. He chased down running backs after they broke through the Steelers defensive line and knocked the Browns out of field goal range in the second quarter — a critical play considering the Steelers ultimately won by three. Ten of the last 11 games between these rivals was decided by a touchdown or fewer, so defensive stops will likely be the difference maker.
C.J. Mosley, Baltimore, LB
The Ravens may a linebacker to anchor their defense for the next 10 years. Or at least, that’s what some analysts are projecting from rookie C.J. Mosley, who’s been projected to finish the season on the All-Rookie Team and to contend for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Mosley didn’t disappoint in his debut, factoring into seven tackles in Baltimore’s loss. Veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs has spoken highly about Mosley so far this season — when he wasn’t claiming to have “classified info” on Roethlisberger and wearing a T-shirt depicting lasts season’s controversial sideline shuffle by Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. The Steelers will look to exploit the rookie, but it’s the perfect opportunity for the 2014 1st-rounder to send a message to the rest of the AFC North.
The Steelers lead the all-time series against the Ravens, 23-16, but the teams have split the last 10 meetings. Although these franchises don’t find common ground on much, they’ll agree that this is the hottest rivalry going. The Steelers face the Ravens Thursday at 8:25 p.m. on CBS and NFL Network.