Late For Work 11/28: Stakes High In Steelers-Ravens 'Virtual Elimination' Game

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Stakes High In 'Virtual Elimination' Game

The best rivalry in sports will be showcased in front of a national audience on Thanksgiving night.

But this is just a great rivalry, right?

The Ravens and Steelers don't actually hate one another, right?

"Oh, it's pure hatred," former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said on NBC's "Football Night in America."

In fact, there's so much disdain for the Steelers in Baltimore, and specifically for Ward, that he's "a little worried" to be on the field for his broadcast duties.

Just as Ward admitted his nervousness, Tony Dungy playfully scooted his chair away from Ward, and Dan Patrick declared: "I'm not standing next to you. I don't want to sit next to you."

Getting serious, Ward professed, "It's going to [be] a playoff atmosphere."

That is true in more ways than one.

Whether it's the Ravens breaking quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's nose, or Troy Polamalu getting the game-winning sack-strip, these games are always intense, hard-hitting and nasty. They're also always close with 10 of the last 13 being decided by four points or less.

But what most resembles a playoff atmosphere in this Turkey day showdown is that it's a "virtual elimination game" in the AFC wild-card chase, says SI.com's Don Banks. There's a one-and-done mentality.

If it's the Ravens who lose this one, their "playoff hopes are basically over," said ESPN's Jamison Hensley.

While there are massive playoff implications for the Steelers, Hensley believes the Ravens need the win more for two reasons: 1) if the Steelers sweep, they own the head-to-head tiebreaker and the Ravens would essentially need to make up two games in four weeks, and 2) the Steelers have an easier schedule over the final stretch of the season.

Three of the Ravens' final four opponents – at Lions (6-5), vs. Patriots (8-3) and at Bengals (7-4) – lead their division or are tied for first place. Meanwhile the Steelers would have a better chance to catch back up with three of their final four games at home. Plus, they only play against one team with a winning record in the Cincinnati Bengals.

"The winner of this one is finally on a winning streak and will have the inside shot at the sixth playoff seed," wrote CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora. "The winner will also remain in contention for the AFC North title, giving the Bengals a run. The loser will be back in the muckety-muck of the murky AFC playoff picture, will have no real margin for error and likely need some help to even have a chance of getting in."

If the Ravens want to pull off the victory, Hensley says they need to follow a similar blueprint that helped them get their most decisive win last week over the Jets:

  1. Big plays on offense. 2. Red-zone defense. 3. More big returns from Jacoby Jones.

Who believes the Ravens can pull it off? …

Week 13 Picks: Steelers vs. Ravens

The analysts are split.

Of the 43 predictors below, 21 say the Ravens will win while 22 say it will be the Steelers.

The Baltimore Sun: 6 of 7 pick the Ravens
Jeff Zrebiec (Steelers 20, Ravens 17): "As tough as it is to pick against the Ravens at home, the Steelers are just playing better football right now and you know that they won't be intimidated by the hostile environment. For the second time this season, they'll make one or two more big plays than the Ravens."

Stan "The Fan" Charles (Ravens 20, Steelers 13): "Ravens defense played its first dominant game of the year last week against the Jets. Sure it wasn't against an elite offense, but then again, the Steelers are not in that category. Pittsburgh has done a good job salvaging its season, but this week the Steelers remind us why they had been so bad early, as Ravens avenge close loss in Week 7."

ProFootballTalk.com: 1 of 2 pick the Ravens
Michael David Smith (Ravens 17, Steelers 14): "It says something about how bad the AFC is that the winner of this game will (for at least three days) take the lead for the sixth and final playoff spot. If one of these teams has a playoff run in them, I think it's Baltimore."

Mike Florio (Steelers 13, Ravens 10): "Ben Roethlisberger has a 7-2 record against Joe Flacco, and a 3-1 mark in Baltimore since Flacco and John Harbaugh arrived. More importantly, the Steelers have become the Steelers again."

Sports Illustrated, Don Banks: (Steelers 23, Ravens 20):
"Having handled most of the NFL's Great Lakes region, beating Buffalo, Detroit and Cleveland in a row, Pittsburgh heads into Baltimore with a good deal of momentum. The Steelers have gotten their act together in the past three weeks by creating turnovers on defense (eight takeaways) and taking care of the ball on offense (Ben Roethlisberger has seven touchdown passes and just one interception during the 3-0 run). Both clubs should rightfully view this as a virtual elimination game in the AFC wild-card chase, but I'm giving Pittsburgh a slight edge based on Roethlisberger's 7-2 record against Joe Flacco, including three wins in Baltimore from 2008 on."

CBSSports.com, Pete Prisco: (Steelers 23, Ravens 20):
"I see this as a playoff game. The loser is almost out. It will be played that way. It will be physical for sure. But I think the difference in this one is the two passing games. Pittsburgh has theirs cranked up, while the Ravens do not. Look for Ben Roethlisberger to hit some shots down the field. Steelers stay hot."

The Sporting News, Vinnie Iyer: (Ravens 20, Steelers 17):
"Forget the good family feelings; the Steelers and Ravens are the Hatfields and McCoys of the NFL. They tend to knock the stuffing out of each other, and Thanksgiving won't change that. They also usually play tight, physical, defensive low-scoring games. The Ravens are a little tougher at home, and this year, they are the better defense, too."

FoxSports.com, Peter Schrager: (Ravens 15, Steelers 10):
"Four weeks ago, a fellow writer texted me after the Steelers gave up 55 points in New England and the Ravens lost to the Jason Campbell-led Cleveland Browns. The text, which came from a guy who knows his stuff, read: "Steelers-Ravens on Thanksgiving. Can NBC flex out of that for any other game on the schedule?!" YOU MADE A SARCASTIC COMMENT TOO SOON, WRITER FRIEND! NOW YOU LOOK FOOLISH! Not only does this game matter, but it features two of the most impressive defenses in the NFL. This one could be downright hideous to watch. I'll be there, enjoying every last second of it."

ESPN.com: 5 of 13 pick the Ravens
YahooSports.com
: 0 of 2 pick the Ravens
USA Today
: 4 of 7 pick the Ravens
CBSSports.com
: 3 of 8 pick the Ravens

Will Pitta Play Tonight?

The Ravens have until 4 p.m. to activate tight end Dennis Pitta for tonight's game. Will they do it?

"I would classify him somewhere between questionable and doubtful," Hensley wrote.

"My guess is he has a better shot at playing next Sunday against Minnesota but it wouldn't surprise me if Pitta played against Steelers."

Harbs' 'Real' Response Coming, Wildcat Lights Fire In Flacco

Head Coach John Harbaugh said little yesterday about Flacco's ripping of the team's use of the wildcat. He didn't seem to want to make any more of a stir.

But his "real" response on the matter is coming …

"[T]he frequency that the Ravens use the wildcat in the future will indicate Harbaugh's real response," wrote Hensley. "If the Ravens use it again throughout the season, Harbaugh is saying this is best for the team, no matter how his $120.6 million quarterback feels about it. If the Ravens shelve the wildcat, you could interpret the team took Flacco's opinion into account."

One fan suggested that the use of the gadget offense last week seemed to light a fire under Flacco and was hopeful he would play well this week to once again prove his critics wrong.

"I agree that Flacco's comments suggest it did light some kind of spark," Hensley responded. "But more than that, Flacco tends to play better at home and he has played well against the Steelers in recent years. When you put all of those factors together, I expect an above-average game out of Flacco on Thursday."

Sound FX: Flacco Wired For Sound

This is a great inside look into the leadership and direction Flacco provides on the field.

Sound FX wired him for sound Sunday against the Jets, and it highlighted his response to his 66-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones and the interception he threw as a result of a wrong run route by Marlon Brown.

Check it out (mobile users tap "View in Browser" at the top of the page).

Quick Hits

  • @steelers: Did you feel that? We just landed in Ravens territory.Steelers-Ravens, always a classic.#HereWeGo [Twitter]
  • @SNFonNBC: We sat down with @Ravens Hall of Fame inductee Jonathan Ogden on the #SNF Bus to talk football, Thanksgiving &  more [Twitter]
  • @gdowning14: It's hard to believe that this week is the first prime-time game at home for the defending SB champs. [Twitter]
  • @Ravens: Long day ahead [Thursday], #Ravens fans. #SetYourAlarms [Twitter]
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