SUNDAY'S GAME // Steelers (8-3) at Ravens (8-3), M&T Bank Stadium, 8:20 p.m.
WEEK 12 // The Steelers squeaked past the Bills in Buffalo in overtime, 19-16, thanks to a dropped touchdown pass by the Bills' Stevie Johnson and four field goals from new Pittsburgh kicker Shaun Suisham, all over 40 yards. The Ravens beat the Bucs at home, 17-10, in a game that wasn't that close.
LAST TIME // The Ravens pulled out an improbable 17-14 win in Pittsburgh in Week 4, when Ben Roethlisberger was finishing a four-game suspension. Baltimore came from behind twice, including in the final 32 seconds when Joe Flacco found T.J. Houshmandzadeh for an 18-yard touchdown pass on a double move. On the Ravens' previous series, Flacco threw incomplete twice from the Steelers' 2-yard line. Flacco passed for 256 yards and was sacked only once. Ray Rice mustered only 20 on eight rushes with a knee injury. Baltimore had 320 total yards to Pittsburgh's 210, and the Steelers piled up 88 yards on 11 penalties. Rashard Mendenhall ran for 79 yards and two touchdowns, but averaged only 3.2 per carry. Ray Lewis had the Ravens' first interception of the season.
THE SERIES // The Ravens have won six of the last seven games against Pittsburgh in Baltimore, although they are just 7-7 overall at home. Baltimore swept the season series only once, in 2006. The Ravens have an 8-game winning streak at M&T coming in. Pittsburgh leads the series overall, 17-12.
STEELERS THIS SEASON // The Steelers have all the earmarks of their playoff teams – terrific run defense, menacing pass rush, solid running game and big plays from the quarterback. But they have been penalty prone this season. In their last two games, the Steelers have drawn 24 penalties for 270 yards. For the season, they have had 72 penalties for 653 yards (compared to the Ravens' 60 for 487). Pittsburgh has won two in a row, but is just 3-2 over the last five games. The Steelers have lost to the Ravens by 3, the Saints by 10 and the Patriots by 13. They are 5-1 on the road this season.
STEELERS OFFENSE // Roethlisberger suffered a foot injury in Buffalo, described as a sprain, but is expected to play. In seven games, he's thrown for 12 touchdowns and four interceptions with a passer rating of 99.1. The Steelers' offensive line is a patchwork of reserves, castoffs and one rookie (center Maurkice Pouncey) and has struggled to protect Roethlisberger, who has been sacked 19 times. In addition to giving up five sacks Sunday, the Steelers' line was also flagged for six holding penalties. Three were against guard Chris Kemoeatu, including one that wiped out a 42-yard run by Mendenhall. Injuries sent both starting tackles to injured reserve, and the tackles are now manned by Jonathan Scott and Flozell Adams.
Still, Mendenhall has rushed for 962 yards, including 151 in Buffalo, and nine touchdowns. Roethlisberger leads the NFL in fourth-quarter and third-down passer ratings. His 8.30 average gain per pass is second best in the league. Wide-out Mike Wallace has 8 touchdowns and leads the league with an average catch of 22 yards.
STEELERS DEFENSE // Once again, the Steelers lead the league in run defense, giving up just 3 yards per carry and 64 per game. Only one team – New England – has been able to rush for more than 100 yards on them this year. They're fifth in total yards and getting superb play from their linebackers. James Harrison already has 10 sacks, six forced fumbles and two interceptions (he's also been fined $100,000 for overzealous or illegal hits this season). LaMarr Woodley has 6.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Lawrence Timmons (two picks, two fumble recoveries and James Farrior are solid inside.
Like the offensive line, the defensive line has been strapped by injury. Both starters at end – Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel – missed last week's game. Smith won't return until late in the season, if at all, with a triceps injury. Keisel's replacement, Nick Eason, suffered a sprained knee this week and gave way to Chris Hoke.
In the back end, safety Troy Polamalu has four interceptions and cornerback Ike Taylor is playing perhaps his best ball. Starting corner Bryant McFadden left the Bills' game with a hamstring injury and was replaced by William Gay, who has been shaky. Anthony Madison may wind up as the nickel back for Pittsburgh. Ryan Clark gives the Steelers a top-rate safety tandem.
STEELERS SPECIAL TEAMS // Mike Tomlin jettisoned longtime kicker Jeff Reed before Week 11 and signed Suisham, who came up big in Buffalo. Suisham has hit 12 field goals in a row between 40 and 49 yards. The punter, Daniel Sepulveda, has a net punting average of 39.4 yards and has dropped 15 inside the 20-yard line. In the return game, Emmanuel Sanders is averaging 25.1 yards on kickoffs and 15.0 on punts.
WHAT IT MEANS // This is the equivalent of a playoff game, both in intensity and in the standings. Both teams are 2-1 in the division and 6-2 in the conference, so the winner gets a big leg up for the stretch run. The Steelers have just one more road game (at Cleveland) left after this and get Cincinnati, the Jets and Carolina at home. They aren't likely to lose more than one of those, so the Ravens are facing a must-win situation. Baltimore's bid for a top seed, a first-round bye and a home playoff game are riding on the outcome.
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Baltimore Ravens
- Ben Roethlisberger
- Buffalo Bills
- Joe Flacco
- New Orleans Saints
- New England Patriots
- New York Jets
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- James Harrison
- Maurkice Pouncey
- Troy Polamalu
- T.J. Houshmandzadeh
- Mike Tomlin
- Ryan Clark
- William Gay
- Brett Keisel
- Chris Kemoeatu
- Bryant McFadden
- Rashard Mendenhall