In this game-day staple, blogger Matt Vensel makes four sometimes-courageous predictions for the game. All he asks is that you don't hold it against him whenever those predictions end up being embarrassingly wrong.
The Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday will play each other for the second time in three weeks. These two teams have gone in different directions since the Ravens won, 13-10, in Pittsburgh. The Ravens are now sitting pretty and the Steelers, who have lost two in a row, are suddenly on the fringe of the playoff picture.
Safety Troy Polamalu and wide receiver Antonio Brown could play this time around, giving the Steelers a big boost, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is out again, taking some of the oomph out of this one.
Still, it's not like the Steelers aren't going to put up a fight. They must get back to their winning ways in a hurry to hold onto their playoff spot, and I'm sure they wouldn't mind delaying the Ravens' clinching of the AFC North in the process. I think the Ravens will protect their purple house, but the 70,000-plus at M&T Bank Stadium should be treated to another close game between these rivals. Keep reading for bolder predictions.
1. BALTIMORE WILL FORCE FOUR PITTSBURGH TURNOVERS
The Steelers were putting footballs on the turf last weekend as if they were lathered up with Crisco. In a stunning loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers fumbled eight -- yes, eight! -- times and lost five of those fumbles, including one from each of their four running backs. Yet, somehow, they were still in position to beat the Browns, but quarterback Charlie Batch threw two of his three interceptions in the fourth quarter. Now I don't think the Ravens will come up with eight takeaways, but I could see them getting hallway there if Batch starts Sunday. After all, the ball-hawking Ravens are third in the AFC with 21 takeaways in 11 games.
2. JACOBY JONES WILL SCORE SOME KIND OF TOUCHDOWN
The Ravens didn't score an offensive touchdown in their Week 11 win over the Steelers, but Jacoby Jones danced in the end zone after scoring six points on a spectacular punt return. Jones is listed as questionable heading into the game, but he told us this week that he would be playing. Plan on him dancing again, too. I'm not sure if it will be another return touchdown -- his fourth of the season would tie a single-season franchise record for team return touchdowns -- or a receiving touchdown. I do know that he has been more involved offensively at home, recording 218 of his 307 receiving yards and 12 of his 22 catches in five home games.
3. THREE STEELERS WIDE RECEIVERS WILL GET TO 50 YARDS
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees talked Thursday about the many offensive weapons the Steelers possess. Brown is so shifty, he said, it's like defending a punt return every time he catches the ball. Mike Wallace, who has been rendered ineffective by the soft-tossing Batch, is still one of the NFL's fastest wide receivers. And Emmanuel Sanders, who had been filling in for Brown, has played so well that he is now listed as a co-starter along with Wallace at the wide receiver spot opposite Brown. The point is, they can all play. And I see them all doing at least 50 yards worth of damage against Baltimore's 23th-ranked pass defense.
4. THERE WILL DEFINITELY BE A BRIAN HOYER SIGHTING
After the Ravens battered Byron Leftwich, the initial backup to Roethlisberger, two weeks ago, the QB-needy Steelers signed Hoyer to back up Batch. Hoyer had been Tom Brady's backup with the New England Patriots, but he was released before the season. Considering he was jobless for two months, Hoyer isn't anything special. But he has to be better than Batch, who looked like he was 57 instead of 37 in the loss to the Browns. If Batch starts, as expected, I wouldn't be surprised if he struggled and got the hook in favor of Hoyer.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun