Monday night's game between the Baltimore Ravens and Steelers at Heinz Field will probably play a major role in determining how the AFC North Division plays out this year.
It is a must-win for the Steelers? It's still too early in the NFL season to start throwing around that phrase, so let's just called it a ''pivotal'' game - the Steelers' first of the season.
Despite their strong defense, the Ravens weren't supposed to be the Steelers' biggest competition in the division this year. The have a rookie coach and a rookie starting quarterback and figured to be a notch below the Steelers and Browns.
However, the Ravens not only have jumped out to a 2-0 start, but they're also 2-0 in the division, beating both the Bengals and Browns. A win over the Steelers on Monday night will complete a sweep of the first cycle of divisional games for Baltimore and will be a big plus for them in determining possible tiebreakers later in the year.
A Ravens win will also give them a confidence that could allow them to play above their heads for a significant part of the season and help them pick up a few extra wins that right now may not look possible.
The Steelers can put a stop to any Baltimore momentum before it gets rolling by winning Monday night.
Because of a Week 2 postponement, the Ravens have a stretch coming up where they'll play five road games in six weeks. Monday's outcome could be a big factor in how the Ravens fare during that stretch.
Last word on debacle
It's easy to point fingers at the offensive line for this past Sunday's nine-sack nightmare against the Eagles. But it's hard to believe the O-line went from decent to horrible in a week or two - they just didn't forget how to block.
Coach Mike Tomlin said everyone should share in the blame - the coaches, the line, the quarterback, the receivers, running backs. But the coaches are the ones who should get most of the blame.
The Steelers were simply not prepared for what hit them, and they never made any adjustments.
It's also inconceivable that the Steelers, with so many weapons on offense, have scored only one touchdown in nine quarters.
Through three weeks of the season, the Steelers' offensive coaching staff has definitely underachieved.
NFL Week No. 4
Game of the week: Washington at Dallas, 4:15 p.m. Sunday (FOX). The Cowboys are 10 1/2-point favorites, but any matchup in the NFC East will be a good one this year.
Upset special: Minnesota (+3) at Tennessee. It's hard to believe the Titans could be 4-0.
Fantasy tip: The Browns and Bengals have been disappointments this season, but when they meet, it's usually good for fantasy owners.
Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His web blog is at altoonamirror.com.