The AFC North will be highlighted in Week 13 on Thanksgiving. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens will face each other in Baltimore on Thursday in a game that will significantly affect both teams' playoff hopes. The loser of the contest will fall behind the pack in a tightly contested battle for the last AFC wild card spot. The winner will at least hold even with their fellow contenders.
Meet the Ravens
The Ravens are currently 5-6 overall. They have fallen well short of expectations coming off a Super Bowl victory. Baltimore is one of several teams vying for the final wild card spot in the AFC and could win their division if the Cincinnati Bengals go into free-fall. Quarterback Joe Flacco has been up-and-down this season, but wide receiver Torrey Smith is having a career year. The Ravens will need Ray Rice to improve on his performance this season if Baltimore hopes to get a home win Thursday.
The Ravens defense is currently ranked 10th in the NFL giving up 329 yards per game, and ranks seventh allowing just 19.5 points per game. Both numbers are improvements on the 350.9 YPG and 21.5 PPG they averaged last season.
Meet the Steelers
The Steelers are still in the playoff race, despite failing to win a game for the first four weeks of the season. Pittsburgh's offense has come alive in recent weeks and the Steelers are now 5-6 as a result. Wide receiver Antonio Brown has 1,044 yards receiving this season, which is second-most in the league.
On defense, the Steelers rank 13th in the league, giving up 343.2 yards per game. Allowing 23.3 points per game, they have been frequently outscored in games due to a shaky offense. Pittsburgh ranks 27th in the league in sacks.
Local Takes: Ravens
Kris Jones of Ravens blog Baltimore Beatdown believes that Ravens fan should not lose hope for the playoffs:
Wild Card teams are feared in the playoffs because it's about getting hot at the right time. Last year, Ray Lewis' retirement speech was the flame that lit their torch, and this season it'll likely come from the hard work it took to make the post season, if they get there at all.
As the Ravens and many other teams have proven before, just get into the dance and see what happens from there.
So, even if I'm lying to myself thinking that the Ravens have the best chance to make the playoffs, I'll allow previous history to at least dictate how I'll treat the remainder of the season until the Ravens reach a point that their postseason hopes have dwindled - if they dwindle at all.
Local Takes: Steelers
For Tyler Drenon of Steelers blog Behind The Steel Curtain, Thursday's game is a "must-win":
The Steelers can give themselves what would amount to a two-game lead over the Ravens with a win on Thursday. Pittsburgh would be 6-6 and Baltimore would 5-7, but holding the tie-breaker would give Pittsburgh the edge if the two teams finish with the same record.Getting back to .500 for the first time since the offseason would be huge for a Steelers team that looks to have hit their stride after an embarrassing 0-4 start. The Steelers are 2-4 on the road. After their trip to Baltimore, they have just one away game remaining -- at Lambeau Field.
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No reason for Joe Flacco to voice displeasure over use of the Wildcat formation: http://t.co/lvE4qXZS0h— Baltimore Beatdown (@BMoreBeatdown) November 26, 2013
Four of six SB Nation experts picked Baltimore to win this AFC North battle, with Joel Thorman and Stephen White picking Pittsburgh.
The Ravens are 2.5-point home favorites against the Steelers in Baltimore, according to OddsShark.