PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have such a heated rivalry that their Thanksgiving night game would be a spectacle even if it meant nothing.
As is almost always the case, however, it means a lot more than just bragging rights. Even though both teams are 5-6, they are tied for second in the AFC North Division and tied with four other teams for the sixth seed in the AFC playoff picture.
The losers won't be eliminated from playoff contention, but their chances will be be severely wounded.
"It's huge," Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. "And it's an AFC North game, that makes it bigger."
There is nothing much bigger than the Steelers-Ravens in the NFL, and it almost always features something on the line, as it did when the Steelers beat Baltimore at Heinz Field Oct. 20 by three points on a field goal as time ran out.
"We realize that this is a big game," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We realize AFC and AFC North road victories are tough to come by. I failed to mention earlier that they are 2-2 since the last time we played them but 2-0 at home. We realize how difficult it is to go into their place and get a victory."
Actually, the Steelers won in Baltimore, also in the 12th game, last season with Charlie Batch at quarterback, and at the time it appeared it might boost them to the AFC North title. But they proceeded to lose their next three and finished 8-8. Baltimore went on to win the AFC North and the Super Bowl.
Now, the teams are back at it with possibly similar stakes on the line.
"We know each other," Timmons said. "We know what to expect. It's going to be a fun game. Both of our defenses are playing pretty well now. I am looking to go out there."
When they met in the sixth game, the Steelers held Ravens running back Ray Rice in check; he ran 15 times for 45 yards. Quarterback Joe Flacco wasn't flashy but he led the Ravens on their only touchdown drive, of 73 yards to score with 1:58 remaining for the tie.
The Steelers came back to win it on Shaun Suisham's 42-yard field goal with no time left after a 44-yard kickoff return by Emmanuel Sanders.
Those late drives seem to fuel this rivalry, with teams pulling out victories in the other's stadiums doing so. Ben Roethlisberger has been involved since 2004 when he was pressed into service in his second game of his rookie season when the Ravens knocked quarterback Tommy Maddox from the game with an arm injury. Roethlisberger never left and has plenty of memories from these always-physical rivalry games.
"There are a lot of them, some of them are painful," he said. "Some are good memories, some obviously are bad. There have been a lot of great games between these two teams."
SERIES HISTORY: 36th meeting, Pittsburgh leads the series, 20-15. It began in 1996 with Cleveland's move to Baltimore and the Ravens quickly became the Steelers' biggest rival. The Steelers have a 9-8 lead in Baltimore, where they won last December, 23-20, and now have a two-game winning streak against the Ravens after beating them Oct. 20 at Heinz Field, 19-16. The Steelers also are 3-0 against Baltimore in the postseason, all games in Pittsburgh.
BY THE NUMBERS: 3 - Margin of victory between the Steelers and Ravens in each of their past four meetings, and eight of their past 10.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not going to dredge up the past. That is the past. We had a lot to do with that." -Tomlin, on his team's 0-4 and 2-6 starts to this season.
--The Steelers placed cornerback Curtis Brown on injured reserve with a torn ACL. They signed cornerback Isaiah Green to the 53-man roster and cornerback Devin Smith to the practice squad.
-- LB LaMarr Woodley (calf) did not practice on Tuesday and it appears he will miss his third consecutive game.
-- DE Brett Keisel (foot) practiced on Tuesday, increasing his chances that he could play Thursday night after missing the past two games.
-- NT Steve McLendon (ankle) is out against Baltimore.
-- S Shamarko Thomas (ankle), who missed the past two games, went through a full practice Tuesday.