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Sunday Spotlight: The Steelers-Ravens survivor pool

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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In 2008, it was the NFL's best rivalry, and it's still tough every time these two teams face off. Today, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens will face off at Heinz Field for the right to continue on and hope for the playoffs. The Ravens stand at 8-6 with a 6-4 conference record, having beaten the Steelers, 20-17, in Week 12. But Ben Roethlisberger(notes) was out of that game, and the 7-7 Steelers know that it took the Ravens an overtime period to beat a Pittsburgh team with Dennis Dixon(notes) taking the snaps.

Coming off a 37-36 win over the Green Bay Packers in which Big Ben threw for 503 yards, the Steelers are confident in their approach -- throw the ball all over the field, and hope that their pass rush can make up for the deficits in a secondary that desperately misses Troy Polamalu(notes). Ben will get a break in that Baltimore's dominant safety counterpart, Ed Reed(notes), will also miss this game, and the Tyrone Carter(notes)/ Tom Zbikowski(notes) duo doesn't put quite the same fear in opposing quarterbacks. We're used to these games being smashmouth affairs, but both formerly dominant defenses are experiencing a recession these days.

The Ravens haven't beaten the Steelers at Pittsburgh since 2006, and they're facing a team that swept them 3-0 in 2008. To get revenge and knock their division mates out of the playoffs, the Ravens must give control of their offense to Ray Rice(notes), the running and receiving Raven from Rutgers (hat tip: Rich Eisen). Rice isn't just a breakaway threat; he's also a guy who can keep drives churning, which keeps Big Ben from torching that vulnerable Baltimore secondary.

The Steelers will have James Harrison(notes) in the lineup -- no time to let a biceps injury keep you out of this one. Harrison and his edge-rushing buddies must pressure Joe Flacco(notes) consistently, making up for Pittsburgh's own secondary issues. They'll have an interesting challenge in that left tackle Jared Gaither(notes) has been ruled out for this one -- rookie Michel Oher will slide over to left tackle and use his nasty, physical style in a way that will define this game. Oher isn't great against speed rushers yet, and that most likely leaves tight end Todd Heap(notes) in to block and takes a weapon away from Flacco.

As it generally is, today's Ravens-Steelers game is as evenly matched as you could imagine, and defines Must-See TV in Week 16,

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