Game Preview: First Place On The Line

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Not only are the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers similar in their smashmouth style and blue-collar mentalities, they are both in position to claim the top spot in the AFC North and set themselves up for a high playoff slot.

But only one team will earn that standing after Sunday's matchup at M&T Bank Stadium.

This weekend, someone will be in the driver's seat for the division - and perhaps conference - title, while the other will be hanging on for the wild-card berth.

"At this time, against these guys, there's no denying what's at stake," said Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh.  "It's an opportunity to put yourself in position for the last four games to have the real edge.  It doesn't guarantee anything, but it does give you an edge."

Baltimore already has one Steelers win to its credit, a 17-14 victory at Heinz Field in Week 4.  A Ravens sweep of Pittsburgh – which has only happened once before in franchise history – would put them in the pole position for a division crown with the tiebreaker advantage.

What's more, whoever comes out on top would have an excellent shot at one of the top two AFC playoff seeds, considering the muddled AFC West and South.

If the Steelers win, however, the tiebreaker falls to their favor due to the Ravens' Week 2 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

In a game that is typically marked with big hits and scorched earth, the postseason implications cannot be overlooked.

"Here we go again – one of those classic battles where everything is on the line," said linebacker Ray Lewis.  "[We're] both 8-3; both fighting to win the AFC North. So, Sunday will tell a whole lot."

The wild card is a route neither club wants to go, as not only would that team lose out on a first-round bye, but it would also likely face either the San Diego Chargers or Indianapolis Colts, who feature red-hot quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning, respectively.

Even after the titans clash under the bright lights of NBC's "Sunday Night Football," it doesn't get easier for the Ravens, who have a more-difficult remaining schedule than the Steelers.

Video Preview: Steelers vs. Ravens
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Baltimore still has the offensively-explosive Houston Texans, defending Super Bowl-champion New Orleans Saints and upstart Cleveland Browns before closing with the division-dwelling Bengals.

Meanwhile, the Steelers' only opponent among their final four with a winning record is the New York Jets (9-2).

"You've got to win your division, and you better be able to play and beat Pittsburgh," said Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron.  "We know the kind of game it is, we know the kind of game we want it to be, and we've got guys that kind of fit this kind of game."
Considering how close Ravens/Steelers games have been in recent years, neither side can afford any miscues.

In four of their last five regular-season meetings, the outcome was decided by three points.  The fifth had a four-point margin. 

Quarterback Joe Flacco needed an 18-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh to seal victory in Pittsburgh earlier this year.

Coming back to their home turf, where the series is split 7-7, the Ravens are expecting another hard-fought slugfest.

"Before I got here, I didn't pay attention to Steelers-Ravens, really," Flacco said.  "They weren't games that we saw regularly, so it's tough to kind of get an understanding for what the rivalry is. But it's a tough, hard-nosed game, and the fans are really involved when it comes to these guys.

"It can definitely heat up a little bit more than any other regular season game."

The mutual respect between the Ravens and Steelers always makes for fireworks on the field.  But throw in nail-biting playoff implications, and Sunday's battle figures to be a doozy.

"They're our archrival, and I don't know what more you need to say than that," said Harbaugh.  "It's a very intense game. It's a very physical game. It's a little bit different than the other games we play. We love playing them. We look forward to it. We can't wait to line up."

Three Things for a Ravens Win:

    • Protect Joe Flacco

The last time these two teams squared off, the Ravens did a stellar job of neutralizing James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley on the edges.  They can expect some different rushes from those two terrors Sunday.  But, the Steelers can potentially be had if you attack their pass defense, and Flacco will need time to survey the field – upright.

*   **Contain Ben Roethlisberger**  

The big Steelers quarterback is superb at making plays when the original call breaks down, mainly because he's so difficult to bring down.  The Ravens must be disciplined in their pass rush to not overrun Roethlisberger.  With added time behind the line of scrimmage, Roethlisberger is an improvisation king.

*   **Hold the Line**  

The Steelers boast the NFL's 9th-ranked rushing attack, and Rashard Mendenhall is coming off a 151-yard game. Baltimore was stellar last week against Tampa Bay's LaGarrette Blount, but the run defense has been up and down all year.  The Ravens would do well to make sure that arrow is pointing up in Sunday's matchup.

Tale of the Tape

Ravens                          Category                           Steelers

8-3. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2010 Record . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8-3

Won 2. . . . . . . . . . . . Current Streak . . . . . . . . . . . .Won 2

  1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . Points Scored . . . . . . . . . . . . .254

  1. . . . . . . . . . . . Touchdowns Scored . . . . . . . . . . .28

  1. . . . . . . . Rushing Touchdowns Scored . . . . . . . .10

  1. . . . . . . . Passing Touchdowns Scored . . . . . . . .16

  1. . . . . . . . . . Touchdowns on Returns . . . . . . . . . .2

188 . . . . . . . . . . . . Points Against . . . . . . . . . . . . .181

  1. . . . . . . . . . . Touchdowns Allowed . . . . . . . . . . .17

  1. . . . . . . . Rushing Touchdowns Allowed . . . . . . . .4

  1. . . . . . . . Passing Touchdowns Allowed . . . . . . . .12

  1. . . . . . . . . . . TDs Allowed by Return . . . . . . . . . . .1

31:31. . . . . . . . . . . Time of Posession Avg.. . . . . . . . . . .31:05

-2. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Turnover Ratio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .+11

45.9%. . . . . . . . . Red Zone TD Pct. For . . . . . . . . .48.4%

38.5%. . . . . . . . Red Zone TD Pct. Against . . . . . . .40.0%

23.3. . . . . . . . . . . . . KOR Avg. For . . . . . . . . . . . . .25.3

27.2. . . . . . . . . . . . KOR Avg. Against . . . . . . . . . . .21.2

6.2. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . PR Avg. For . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8.1

8.2. . . . . . . . . . . . . PR Avg. Against . . . . . . . . . . . .7.4

Ravens

Steelers

Category

Stats

Rank

Stats

Rank

Total Offense

348.3

14

334.5

19

Rush Offense

114.4

14

126

9

Pass Offense

233.9

16

208.5

22

Points/Game

22.7

17(t)

23.1

16

Total Defense

307.4

8

304.5

5

Rush Defense

101.7

11

64

1

Pass Defense

205.6

7(t)

240.5

22

Points/Game

17.1

5

16.5

3

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