BALTIMORE RAVENS (7-5) AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS (10-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Heinz Field. TV: NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 44th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 23-20. Pittsburgh has won the past two games in this heated rivalry after losing four straight. The Steelers picked up a 26-9 victory in Week 4 in Baltimore. The teams have split the last 22 meetings. Pittsburgh, which is riding a seven-game winning streak, also owns a 3-1 record over Baltimore in the postseason.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Steelers are a game-plan offense so just because they ran all over the Ravens to the tune of 173 yards when they met Oct. 1, don’t be surprised if the Steelers take to the air in this one.
The Ravens will be playing without their top cornerback, Jimmy Smith, who was lost for the season with an Achilles injury last week. Ben Roethlisberger has 10 touchdown passes in the past three games, and eight of those have come at Heinz Field.
Even if running back Le’Veon Bell isn’t as heavily involved in the running game as he was in October, expect Bell to be a big part of the passing game. He has been very productive in the passing game in recent weeks — he has 17 catches for 194 yards in the past two games.
The Ravens finally had some success throwing the ball downfield against the Detroit Lions. The Steelers’ No. 2 pass defense poses a bigger challenge, but Joe Flacco has a renewed sense of confidence and will take some shots against Pittsburgh’s secondary.
Baltimore has been successful running the ball this season, and rotates three running backs — Alex Collins, Javorius “Buck” Allen and Danny Woodhead. The goal is to wear down the Steelers’ defensive line and dictate the tempo.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Steelers WR Antonio Brown vs. Ravens CB Brandon Carr. With fellow cornerback Jimmy Smith out for the year, Carr faces the daunting task of trying to shut down Brown, one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league. Carr will likely need some help from his safeties to fully contain Brown, who leads the league with 1,296 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Carr also has been productive, with three interceptions. However, this matchup favors Brown and the Ravens will have to adjust.
–Ravens WR Mike Wallace vs. Steelers CBs Artie Burns and Cameron Sutton. Wallace, the former Steeler, is the Ravens’ big-play threat and is coming off one of his best games of the season — five catches for 116 yards against Detroit. The Steelers’ secondary has struggled in coverage over the past four games, allowing eight touchdown passes. Sutton is a rookie and has played in just two games, but he is likely to start after replacing Coty Sensabaugh in the second half of the Bengals game. Burns and Sutton can’t allow Wallace to get behind them for any big plays.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORTS
–Doubtful: LB Za’Darius Smith (shoulder)
–Questionable: G Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder), WR Jeremy Maclin (back), LB C.J. Mosley (neck)
–Out: CB Joe Haden (fibula), LB Tyler Matakevich (shoulder), LB Ryan Shazier (back)
–Questionable: S Michael Mitchell (ankle)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Steelers WR Eli Rogers. Rogers will have a bigger role because JuJu Smith-Schuster won’t play due to a suspension. Rogers, who had 48 receptions in his first season last year, has just 12 this season after being bypassed on the depth chart by Smith-Schuster. But with Smith-Schuster out, Rogers has a chance to re-establish himself in the receiver rotation. He probably will get plenty of looks, with Antonio Brown getting the lion’s share of attention from the Ravens’ defensive backfield.
FAST FACTS: Baltimore QB Joe Flacco has more than 300 yards passing in two of his last three on Sunday night. … RB Alex Collins had 98 yards from scrimmage and two rushing touchdowns last week. He has three straight games with a rushing touchdown. … RB Danny Woodhead has 16 receiving touchdowns since 2012, the most among running backs. … WR Jeremy Maclin has a touchdown catch in two of the last three games against AFC North teams. … WR Mike Wallace has two straight games on the road with a touchdown. … LB C.J. Mosley had 12 tackles and a forced fumble last time against the Steelers. … FS Eric Weddle had a sack and forced fumble and returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown last week. He is the only active player with 25 interceptions and eight sacks. … Pittsburgh can clinch the AFC North with a win or tie and can clinch a playoff berth with a Buffalo loss or tie. … Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has 10 touchdown passes and only two interceptions in his past three home games. He has three straight home games with a quarterback rating over 105. In the last five Sunday night home games, he has 1,672 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and just three interceptions. … RB Le’Veon Bell leads the NFL with 1,057 rushing yards and 1,559 yards from scrimmage. He had 182 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown reception last week. … WR Antonio Brown leads the NFL with 88 catches and 1,296 receiving yards. He has 535 receiving yards and six touchdowns in his past four home games. … LB Vince Williams had a sack last week and has a sack in three of the past five home games.
PREDICTION: Overshadowing preparations for the Ravens, all thoughts in Pittsburgh this week have been with linebacker Ryan Shazier, who suffered a spinal injury in Sunday’s game against Cincinnati. The extent of Shazier’s injury won’t be known until swelling recedes. Expect the Steelers to rally around their fallen defensive leader and give him the game ball after the win.