Big weekend of match-ups in the AFC North. The Ravens head to Pittsburgh, attempting to cement their place at the top of the division. The Browns travel to Dallas, at the very least upsetting playoff runs that Dallas may have.
Baltimore at Pittsburgh (8:30 PM ET NBC)
The Steelers host a pivotal AFC North rivalry game with a 6-3 record, with the Ravens (7-2) sporting a one-game game lead entering Sunday night night's game. It goes without saying Sunday's game has serious implications in the division, but a Baltimore win gives the Ravens a significant edge moving forward. Due to a scheduling anomaly, the two teams will meet again in two weeks in Baltimore.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger won't play this week and it with some uncertainty beyond this weekend. Backup (and veteran) quarterback Byron Leftwich, who hasn't started since 2009, will step in with many hoping that he manages the game. Leftwich has the arm to get the ball to speedy receivers Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders, but he also has been prone to turnovers during his career.
With Antonio Brown declared as out this weekend, Jerricho Cotchery, Heath Miller, and the Pittsburgh running game need to fill the voids being left from injury, as will the offensive line, protecting a quarterback that's a proverbial statue in the pocket. Things could equal out in the end, with Baltimore being without cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and LaDarius Webb, who is out for the rest of the season. Chykie Brown and Corey Graham will need to step up in Smith's place.
Despite getting older and not having Troy Polamalu for an extended period of time, the Steelers still rank number one in defense. The Chiefs were able to run for over 140 yards on Pittsburgh last week, so the Ravens may use the same formula with Ray Rice; if Rice runs for over 100 yards and Joe Flacco does not turn the ball over, Baltimore should be able to take a two game lead over Pittsburgh and the rest of the division. The Ravens have won four of the past six regular season meetings over the Steelers.
Cleveland at Dallas (1 PM ET CBS)
The 2-7 Browns head to Dallas, playing somewhat better this year, looking to upset the Cowboys postseason chances, currently in the gray region of 4-5 uncertainty. The Cowboys, missing running back DeMarco Murray for a fifth consecutive game, face a Browns team that's had trouble stopping the run, with first round pick Felix Jones likely getting the bulk of carries. The Cowboys feature a solid secondary and a productive front seven.
Quarterback Brandon Weeden needs to focus on not turning the ball over, especially with DeMarcus Ware seemingly hunting around every corner. On the other hand, Ware features an intgriging matchup against Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, who has had his some struggles this season.
In order for the Browns to stand a chance, Trent Richardson must be the reason. The Cowboys are doing a decent job at stopping the run (13th) and the Browns have struggled at times to get the run game going (27th). But offensive coordinator Brad Childress and head coach Pat Shurmur realize that a heavily involved Richardson gives the Browns their best chance winning any game.