When the Ravens and Steelers meet Sunday for the second time in three weeks, both teams will have plenty on the line.
They're just in very different situations.
The Ravens (9-2) have an opportunity to clinch a spot with a victory, which would be their fifth-straight trip to the postseason. The Steelers (6-5) are fighting to keep their playoff hopes– and in some ways their season – alive after losing two games in a row without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"This is what you play for," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "This is what you prepare for. It's what we are all in this for – it's what we work so hard for – these opportunities to be playing relevant and meaningful games in December and playing meaningful games in your division against your biggest rival. That's what it's all about."
The Ravens have the upper hand coming into Sunday's matchup at M&T Bank Stadium. They have beaten the Steelers in three straight games and four out of the last five in the regular season. The Ravens have a three-game lead in the AFC North, and are also riding a 15-game winning streak in Baltimore.
The numbers are in the Ravens' favor, but the Steelers are a team desperate for a win.
"They've got their reasons [for] what they're playing for, and we've got our reasons for what we're playing for," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "So, you just expect to see another good, physical football game. And anybody that's expecting something different, they're kidding themselves, because the level of dislike is still there, but the mutual respect is also still there."
The Steelers won't have starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has been ruled out. The Ravens are 5-0 against the Steelers in games that Roethlisberger has missed because of injury or suspension, compared to 5-9 with him in the lineup.
While downturn in the Steelers' season has given the Ravens some breathing room, Baltimore still expects another brawl. "The stakes are high," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "We're trying to become one of the top teams in the AFC. In order to do that, we have to win every week.
"These guys are a great team, and it's going to be another great game."
3 Matchups To Watch
CB Corey Graham vs. WR Antonio BrownThe Steelers get Antonio Brown back in the lineup after a high ankle sprain sidelined him the last three weeks. He's a* *playmaker with great agility and explosive speed that will test the Ravens secondary. Graham didn't have to face Brown in the Week 11 contest, so this will be the first matchup between the two.
QB Joe Flacco vs. S Troy PolamaluPolamalu is also back in the lineup after a calf injury cost him most of the season. The veteran safety has played in just two games this season, but he's still a threat to make plays in the secondary, especially if Flacco misses a target. Polamalu has gotten the best of Flacco in the past – the 2008 AFC championship where he sack/stripped Flacco and intercepted him – and Flacco said this week that he always has to be aware of Polamalu on the field.
OLB Terrell Suggs vs. LT Max StarksThe Steelers have major concerns along the offensive line, as right tackle Mike Adams is expected to be out because of a knee injury and fellow rookie Beachum will likely take his place. The injury has forced the Steelers to shuffle their offensive line, but the one mainstay has been Starks at the left tackle spot. The Steelers held Suggs without a sack in their first meeting, but more pressure could fall on Starks now that the rest of the line has been adjusted.
3 Questions To Answer
Can the offense build off the strong finish in San Diego?After struggling on the road for much of the season, the Ravens offense flipped a switch in the fourth quarter and overtime of Sunday's comeback win over the Chargers, and it will look to build off that effort this week. Coming back to play at M&T Bank Stadium, where the unit scored 55 points last time against the Raiders, could mean good things for the offense. Flacco has been sharp at home throughout the season, and the Ravens could try to go with the up-tempo offense that has proven successful in Baltimore.
Can the Ravens dominate Batch?With Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich out, 37-year-old veteran Charlie Batch will start for Pittsburgh. He threw three interceptions to the Cleveland Browns last week and did not have a good game starting against the Ravens in 2010. Baltimore will look to stop the run and force Batch to have to throw in tough situations. Can they pick him off?
Can the Ravens run the ball?In their Week 11 matchup, the Ravens struggled to move the ball on the ground. Ray Rice finished the day with just 40 yards on 20 carries. The Steelers have the fifth-best run defense in the NFL, so they're used to shutting teams down on the ground. But the Ravens have made a commitment to the ground game in recent weeks, so something has to give.
RavensTotal Defense – 372.8 (24)
Rush Defense – 128.5 (26)
Pass Defense – 244.4 (23)
Points Allowed Per Game – 19.9 (7)
Total Offense – 348.2 (16)
Rush Offense – 101.6 (21)
Pass Offense – 246.5 (11)
Points Scored Per Game – 25.7 (9)
Total Defense – 257.2 (1)
Rush Defense – 91.5 (5t)
Pass Defense – 165.7 (1)
Points Allowed Per Game – 19.1 (4)
Total Offense – 339.8 (19t)
Rush Offense – 101.5 (22)
Pass Offense – 238.3 (15)
Points Scored Per Game – 21.0 (20)