The AFC North often is up for grabs when Pittsburgh and Baltimore play, only this time it's a more desperate situation for both.
The Super Bowl champs got there on the backs of the Ravens last season, sweeping them in three close games, the finale in the AFC Championship at Heinz Field. The Steelers now limp into Baltimore on Sunday with a 6-4 record; the Ravens are in worse shape at 5-5.
The Cincinnati Bengals tantalized both by losing in Oakland last week to hang onto first place at 7-3 and leaving the door open for both the Ravens and Steelers, but some do not think the door will remain ajar for long for Sunday's loser.
"This is it right here," Steelers linebacker and co-captain James Farrior said. "This is probably our playoff time right now. We need to go into the rest of these games and treat them like playoff games because we got to win them all anyway in order to do what we want to do."
Roethlisberger practiced Wednesday and will start after he received a mild concussion Sunday in Kansas City.
The Steelers have given Dixon plenty of snaps in practice to get him ready if needed.
"It's a test, you always have to be ready," Dixon said. "If somebody needs me to take that test come Sunday, I got to be willing to answer the questions and go on from there."
The issues for the Steelers have become turnovers and kickoff returns. Their offense ranks sixth in the NFL and their defense No. 1, which should equate into a better record than 6-4. But the Steelers rank tied for 25th in the NFL in net turnovers at minus-five, they've allowed eight returns against them for touchdowns, including four kickoff returns in the past five games, and they have dropped interceptions as if they were nuclear waste. Their cornerbacks have none.
Even Dick LeBeau can't say why his defense has only eight interceptions to go with six fumble returns.
"I wish I knew or I'd damn sure have our numbers higher," LeBeau said. "But we need to have more turnovers. Right now that's an area we must do better in."
Another area would be in running the ball. They rank only 17th in the NFL and while that is higher than the 23rd they finished last season, it's not Pittsburgh-like. They also are running only 41.1 percent of the time, which would be their lowest percentage of runs in 40 years if it continues. They did not have a 100-yard game in any of the three they played last season against Baltimore, which ranks fifth in the NFL against the run this season.
"You have to kind of change it up because they're very stout in the middle, just like we are," offensive tackle Max Starks said. "They have big, big D-linemen and fast linebackers, same as us. So it's tough to run in the middle against them."
27th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series 16-10. Pittsburgh is 7-6 in Baltimore. The Steelers are 2-0 vs. the Ravens in the postseason, including last year's AFC Championship, 23-14 at Heinz Field. The Steelers swept the series last season. However, they are 1-5 over the past six years in Baltimore.
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