The thinking was maybe the Steelers would go 2-2 without suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. That would leave them in decent position to challenge for a playoff berth, or even the AFC North title.
Forget that. Pittsburgh is 3-0, atop the division and one of just three undefeated teams in the league. The Steelers are 1 1/2 -point favorites over Baltimore in the latest matchup of the most physical rivalry in the game.
"The league does not want us to be 4-0 with a mad Ben coming back, I’ll tell you that," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "We are playing with a lot of confidence as a team — offensively, defensively, special teams. I know Ben right now is itching to hurry up and get back to be here with us."
Of course he is. Yet, would he really want any part of the Ravens’ mean defense in his first game back behind center? That unit ranks first against the pass and is a main reason Baltimore is 2-1.
Roethlisberger won’t be the guy for another two weeks — Pittsburgh has a bye in Week 5. Joe Flacco is the guy for the Ravens, and his connection with wide receiver Anquan Boldin really took flight against Cleveland with three touchdowns. Steelers fill-in Charlie Batch will need to be as effective as he was in last Sunday’s rout of Tampa Bay.
This is a division race that will go down to the final weeks, in part thanks to …
UPSET SPECIAL: RAVENS, 16-13
Indianapolis (minus 7) at Jacksonville
Peyton Manning already has thrown for nine TDs and has no interceptions this year. Can he be getting even better? BEST BET: COLTS, 31-14
Washington (plus 6 1/2 ) at Philadelphia
Welcome back to Philly, Donovan. You can even expect some brotherly love from the former homies — until kickoff, naturally. EAGLES, 21-13
Chicago (plus 3 1/2 ) at N.Y. Giants
A wise scribe once said teams that aren’t good enough to be 4-0 won’t be. That describes the Bears. Besides, the Giants are angry after last week’s debacle. GIANTS, 21-17
New England (pick-em) at Miami, Monday
Another prime-timer for the Dolphins, who might prefer some afternoon games in the heat at home instead. Can they take advantage of New England’s shaky D? PATRIOTS, 27-23
Houston (minus 4) at Oakland
The Raiders should have won at Arizona last week, and the Texans showed leaks on defense against Dallas. Still, Houston is a better team. TEXANS, 24-21
Denver (plus 6 1/2 ) at Tennessee
The Titans benefited from the Giants’ lack of discipline and inability to protect the ball. Denver isn’t usually so charitable, but the Broncos also aren’t too dangerous on the road. TITANS, 19-14
Cincinnati (minus 3 1/2 ) at Cleveland
Would the Bengals like anything more than to put a stake into the winless Browns’ hearts? Cleveland is playing just well enough to lose and Cincinnati has not been outstanding yet. BENGALS, 20-13
Detroit (plus 14 1/2 ) at Green Bay
My goodness, were the Packers really that awful on Monday night? Wouldn’t want to be in coach Mike McCarthy’s shouting range this week. PACKERS, 35-13
Carolina (plus 14) at New Orleans
The Panthers have looked bad against mostly mediocre opponents. Now they get the Super Bowl champs — who have looked kind of mediocre, too. SAINTS, 40-17
San Francisco (plus 7) at Atlanta
Another team coming up far short of expectations, the Niners fired their offensive coordinator this week. The Falcons look ready to join the league’s elite. FALCONS, 21-13
N.Y. Jets (minus 5) at Buffalo
Here’s a place the Jets rarely play well. But this could be a new version of the J-E-T-S — boastful yet sometimes brilliant. J-E-T-S, 27-14
Arizona (plus 8) at San Diego
An enigmatic team against … an enigmatic team.
Go with the club that has a quality quarterback. CHARGERS, 30-20
Seattle (minus 1 1/2 ) at St. Louis
Seahawks aren’t nearly the same on the road as at home, while Rams have built confidence following win over Redskins. Sorry, we still don’t believe in St. Louis. SEAHAWKS, 17-10
Versus spread, 8-8 (overall 28-19); Straight up, 9-7 (overall 30-18)
Best Bet: 2-1 against spread, 3-0 straight up.
Upset Special: 3-0 against spread, 3-0 straight up.