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Steve Smith: Ravens-Steelers 'professional hatred'

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Leave it to Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. to perfectly encapsulate the Baltimore-Pittsburgh rivalry.

In an interview with reporters Wednesday, he called it "professional hatred."

"Our fans hate them, their fans hate us," he said, via ESPN.com. "You know ... it's a great divorce."

While the NFL takes chances by loading the back end of the schedule with divisional rivalries, the payoff can be extraordinary. Having the Ravens (8-6) and Steelers (9-5) play on Christmas Day (exclusively airing on NFL Network) with the AFC North -- and realistically, the playoffs -- on the line is something that Howard Katz and Co. dream of every year when they begin the massive undertaking of crafting the perfect schedule.

According to NFL Media research, the Steelers can clinch the AFC North with a win on Sunday. The Ravens, though, can also theoretically "control their destiny" with a win. Should Baltimore win on Sunday and defeat the Bengals in the season finale, they will win the division and waltz into the playoffs. In that scenario, the Steelers could still sneak in as a wild-card team but would need some help from the Miami Dolphins, who finish their season with difficult games against the Bills and Patriots.

But more than just scenarios, this game features some of the best veteran talent remaining in football. In the past, I've talked about the end of the Peyton Manning era sneaking up on me and I'm determined to enjoy another round of Terrell Suggs v. Ben Roethlisberger. Having Smith, Elvis Dumervil, Eric Weddle and James Harrison in the fold is an incredible treat. There won't be a game this weekend, or perhaps all season long, with better coaching and preparation on both sides of the ball.

All of this under the umbrella of "professional hatred" at a hostile Heinz Field. Does it get any better than this?

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