Live Fantasy Advice: Watch Fantasy Football Live
The Ravens look to continue their strong season when they visit the surging Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
The defending Super Bowl champion Steelers are making another late-season push, winning five of their last six games to jump back into the playoff picture. Pittsburgh is 7-7 and mathematically alive for a wild-card spot, but needs several scenarios to play out in order to defend its title.
“We still have life even though we’re hanging on the respirator right now,” Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. “You never know what is going to happen. All we can is control what we can.”
The Ravens (11-3) have no such worries.
Cincinnati lost 34-16 to Indianapolis on Monday night, giving Baltimore its second division title in the franchise’s 11-year history. The Ravens, who had clinched a playoff berth a day earlier with a 27-17 win over Cleveland, have won seven of their last eight games behind a dominating defense and rejuvenated offense.
San Diego owns the best record in the AFC, one game ahead of Indianapolis and Baltimore. The Colts are in the second spot, but the Ravens beat the Chargers 16-13 on Oct. 1 and would hold the tiebreaker if those teams finished the season with the same record.
“We have to keep chugging,” Ravens linebacker Bart Scott said. “We still have a lot to play for. By no means do we shut it down here.”
McNair is expected to start against Pittsburgh despite leaving last Sunday’s win with an injury to his throwing hand. Cleveland linebacker Andra Davis stepped on the hand during the Ravens’ second offensive series, opening a cut that made it hard for McNair to take snaps from center.
Kyle Boller stepped in and went 13-for-21 for 238 yards and two touchdowns, allowing coach Brian Billick to keep McNair on the sidelines.
“Steve was certainly ready to go back in should something have happened to Kyle, so that was a comfort zone,” Billick said Monday. “It was my call. He was ready to go, but I thought it was the prudent thing to do—and now I’m glad we did.”
McNair, who’s 9-4 in his career against Pittsburgh, said he’ll be ready to go this week. He hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 10 against Tennessee and his 146 consecutive pass attempts without a pick is the longest active streak in the league.
McNair had a 102.8 passer rating in Baltimore’s 27-0 win over Pittsburgh on Nov. 26. The Ravens’ defense had nine sacks, forced three turnovers and held the Steelers to 172 total yards in that game.
The Ravens are first in the NFL in total defense, allowing 265.8 yards a contest.
Baltimore needs one victory to match the franchise record for wins in a season, set in 2000 when the team won the Super Bowl. The Ravens have lost four straight in Pittsburgh, but can sweep the season series for the first time in franchise history Sunday.
Like last season, when they won their final eight games, culminating with a 21-10 win over Seattle in the Super Bowl, the Steelers are turning things around following a dismal 2-6 start.
Pittsburgh has scored at least 20 points in five of its last six games—the exception being the shutout loss to Baltimore—and the defense has allowed a total of 13 points in the last three contests, making the last two regular-season games meaningful for the Steelers, who can only get the sixth seed in the AFC.
That shouldn’t be such a bad thing for Pittsburgh, though. The team was also the sixth seed last season when it upset Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver on the road to reach the Super Bowl.
“We’ve been there before. We’ve played on the road in December and we’ve played on the road in January,” Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher said after the Steelers defeated Carolina 37-3 last Sunday. “This football team knows that mind-set you have to have to win.”
Ben Roethlisberger threw for a touchdown and ran for another, and Willie Parker had 132 yards rushing and a touchdown to lead the Steelers to the victory over the Panthers. Roethlisberger went over 3,000 yards passing for the first time in his career and improved to 10-1 in December.
Parker, who was selected to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday, needs 69 yards to become the fourth Steeler with 1,400 yards rushing in a season. He’s scored 14 touchdowns this year, one short of Louis Lipps’ club-record set during the 1985 season.
Parker is averaging 132 rushing yards per game at Heinz Field, the best home mark in the NFL.