RAVENS PASSING GAME: Quarterback Joe Flacco is just 212 yards away from his first 4,000-yard season, but he has been intercepted 13 times, the second most in his career. He has been picked off in four consecutive games. The Ravens need him to play a much cleaner and decisive game to beat a quality team on its home field. Mike Wallace burned his former team with a 95-yard touchdown catch earlier the season. It would behoove Flacco to get both Wallace and Steve Smith Sr. involved early.
STEELERS PASSING GAME: Ben Roethlisberger has cooled off a bit, throwing three touchdown passes and four interceptions over his past three games. He has gone five straight weeks without a 300-yard game. Star wide receiver Antonio Brown has also been quiet lately as opposing defenses have been using the two-high-safety look to take away the deep ball and force Eli Rogers and Sammie Coates to beat them. The Steelers' underrated offensive line has allowed just 17 sacks, the second fewest in the league.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: The Ravens have stuck to their preseason vow to ride the hot hand at running back. Last week, that was Terrance West, who had 122 all-purpose yards. He'll get another start, but rookie Kenneth Dixon, who has touchdowns in back-to-back weeks, figures to play a significant role. West and Dixon combined for just 34 yards on 24 carries in the first meeting with the Steelers. The Ravens' 151 rushing yards last week against the Philadelphia Eagles were a season high.
STEELERS RUNNING GAME: The Steelers' five-game winning streak has coincided with Le'Veon Bell becoming the focal point of the offense. During the streak, Bell is averaging 34 touches per game. He is third in the league in rushing despite a three-game suspension and his 158.8 all-purpose yards per game average leads the NFL. However, it has been tough sledding for Bell against the Ravens. They held him to a season-low 70 total yards in November. Bell has eclipsed 100 yards rushing once in six career meetings.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: Suddenly, there are questions about the Ravens' run defense after it spent a good part of the season ranked No. 1 in the NFL. The Ravens still are allowing only 82.1 rushing yards per game, which ranks second in the league. But they were gouged by the Eagles for a season-high 169 rushing yards. The Eagles were able to get the Ravens' big defensive front on the move and get blockers to C.J. Mosley and Zachary Orr. The Steelers will surely study the Eagles' game plan.
STEELERS RUSH DEFENSE: Pittsburgh is stout against the run, allowing only 89.1 rushing yards per game, the fifth-lowest total in the NFL. The Steelers nullified the Ravens' run game in the first matchup, holding them to 50 yards on 29 carries. Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier are two fast and active linebackers. They've combined for 167 total tackles. Pittsburgh is banged up along its front with Stephon Tuitt and Ricardo Mathews dealing with leg injuries.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: This group played one of its best games all season when the two teams met in early November. The Ravens got pressure with their front four and had a safety overtop of Brown, preventing Roethlisberger from doing much damage until late in the game. Expect the Ravens to follow a similar script, but the task will be more difficult with top cornerback Jimmy Smith likely out. Rush linebacker Terrell Suggs has gone three straight games without a sack.
STEELERS PASS DEFENSE: The Steelers start two rookies in their secondary — Artie Burns and former Maryland standout Sean Davis — and their play has keyed the team's defensive resurgence. Pittsburgh is allowing just 14 points per game during its winning streak. Meanwhile, the ageless James Harrison, who schooled Ravens rookie Ronnie Stanley in November, has five of the Steelers' 32 sacks. Poor tackling figured prominently in the Steelers' loss in Baltimore, but they've improved in that area.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Justin Tucker, who was selected to his second Pro Bowl last week, will set an NFL record if he makes another 50-plus yard field goal. He has already made 10 of them, tying Blair Walsh's mark. Heinz Field is a tough stadium to kick in, but Tucker is 12-for-13 on field-goal attempts there in his career. After cutting Devin Hester Sr., the Ravens are using rookie Chris Moore on kickoff returns and Michael Campanaro on punts. Penalties remain a problem for the kick return team.
STEELERS SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Chris Boswell had a few shaky moments earlier this season, but he went 6-for-6 on field-goal attempts last week against the Cincinnati Bengals. Five of his six makes were from 40 yards and beyond. Boswell has yet to hit from 50-plus yards this season, missing on both of his attempts. The ever-dangerous Brown is a threat on punt returns, but the Steelers haven't gotten a whole lot from their return game. Their coverage teams haven't been great either.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens have played their best football in recent years against the Steelers, and they've hardly been overwhelmed by the raucous environment at Heinz Field. They've won four consecutive games against the Steelers overall, including the last two matchups in Pittsburgh. However, the current Ravens have dropped four straight games on the road and they've come up small in "statement" games against the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots.
STEELERS INTANGIBLES: Mike Tomlin's team couldn't ask for anything more than to have an opportunity to win the AFC North on its home field, while also putting an end to the Ravens' recent dominance. Pittsburgh is a different team since losing four straight games from Oct. 16 to Nov. 13. The offense is running through the explosive Bell and the defense is getting to quarterbacks while playing well on the back end. The Steelers' two home losses this year are to the Patriots and Cowboys.
PREDICTION: As Flacco said last week, this is the matchup everybody wanted to see, and it's only fitting that so much is at stake. Let's not be fooled, though: This isn't an ideal spot at all for the Ravens, having to go on the road, where they haven't won in two months, and beat one of the hottest teams in the league to save their season. They always seem to play well against the Steelers, but past matchups will mean little come Christmas evening. This one could get ugly if the Ravens offense doesn't get off to a good start and sustain it throughout the game.