The Pittsburgh Steelers can punch their postseason tickets with a win over the Baltimore Ravens they visit on Sunday night.
However, they must meet that goal without a couple of key players.
JuJu Smith-Schuster receiver is suspended after a block in Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict on Monday night. Linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a spinal injury in that game and had to be hospitalized.
Pittsburgh (10-2) can get its third AFC North title in four seasons with a win or a draw against Baltimore, which has won three straight. Getting a win is the main focus this week, not the consequences of the physical game against the Bengals.
"It's a challenge in a short week, you know, play Monday night and have another great division game ahead of us," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "But that's how life is in the AFC North." We embrace the challenges of playing in this division: how difficult it is and the intentions of those against whom we compete. We will be energized by the time of the game on Sunday. We will be enthusiastic about defending our turf against a very good football team. "
The Ravens also had a key loss when their best cornerback, Jimmy Smith, suffered a tear in the Achilles tendon in the previous game against the Lions. Four games were also suspended for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
As a result, Baltimore will have Brandon Carr and rookie Marlon Humphrey to start from the outside against Antonio Brown of the Steelers and probably with Martavis Bryant. A pair of young cornerbacks, Jaylen Hill and Maurice Canady, will also have more opportunities. Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste was promoted from the practice squad and could see some action.
"Our high school is playing at a really high level," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. "It will be tested in this game against its players and its scheme, so we are anxious about that, how we are going to be determined, we will have to prove that on the field."
The Steelers beat Baltimore 26-9 in the first meeting on October 1. With the Ravens facing Brandon Williams out of the lineup with a foot injury, Pittsburgh rusher Leon Bell accumulated 144 yards with two touchdowns. Williams recovered from the injury and the Baltimore rushing defense has been solid. Then, Bell will have the challenge of repeating that performance.
This game also has big playoff implications for the Ravens, who hold the sixth and final place in the AFC playoff race. Baltimore could improve its playoff seed with a win.
"It's a great rivalry," said Harbaugh. "We love to play in that, it's the most physical game we play every year, it's always difficult to get out of the game, because you'll probably have lots of bruises and blows.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is looking forward to the Steelers defense challenge, which is ranked fourth overall in the NFL. In his last seven games at Heinz Field, Flacco completed 64.4 percent of his passes, averaging 241.7 yards per contest with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. He is 4-3 in that stretch.
"This game is always amazing," said Flacco. "It's really fun to play there, the more you go up there, the more you enjoy the atmosphere, it's a good old-fashioned football game that you love being part of."
The Steelers lead the all-time series with Baltimore, 23-20. However, the teams have divided the last 22 meetings.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also appreciates the rivalry with the Ravens, which is very different from the controversial meeting against the Bengals.
"The difference between this game and the Cincinnati game is these two teams, us and Baltimore, there's always a respect involved," Roethlisberger said. "They're going to hit you very hard or you're going to hit someone very hard, but you're going to help them get up and say:" Man, good job. "In the end, you're going to shake his hand and give him a I embrace the other and they say it was fun and I can not wait to do it next year, it's a fun rivalry in the sense that there is a lot of respect and there are two good football teams. "