All you need to know about this week is it's Ravens week. In all seriousness, for the Pittsburgh Steelers, this Thursday Night Football Thanksgiving spectacular against the Baltimore Ravens is the biggest game of the year for many reasons.
A huge portion of the weight of this game is because both of these teams are sitting at 5-6 and staring down the final wild-card playoff spot in the AFC. This game is also very important because both teams play in the competitive AFC North. Oh, and finally this game is significant because both teams have a serious dislike for one another.
There are some real challenges to this week's game for both teams, not the least of which is the short week of preparation that coordinates with the Thanksgiving holiday. Short weeks mean minimal time to update and modify game plans and a greater emphasis on the health of the players.
Head coach Mike Tomlin put it like this, per the Steelers' official Twitter account:
"We're working on a short week and we won't make it an excuse...we're excited about playing on Thanksgiving." - Coach Tomlin— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 25, 2013
Here's a look at what you need to know heading into Week 13.
The pesky Cincinnati Bengals continue to maintain a slim lead in the AFC North with a 7-4 record. However, the Bengals travel to San Diego this Sunday to take on the Chargers, so a lot could change in a hurry.
Both the Steelers and Ravens are part of a huge jumble of teams hovering around .500, making every game going forward so much more important. There will be lots of scoreboard watching going forward.
The Steelers had to contend with some significant injuries last Sunday in their win over the Cleveland Browns.
Most significant among those injuries were the ones to linebacker LaMarr Woodley, safety Shamarko Thomas and defensive end Brett Keisel. The exact statuses of all these players is still unknown at this time, but read on and there is hope.
During the game, the Steelers lost cornerback Curtis Brown to an apparent knee injury and defensive tackle Steve McLendon to an ankle injury. Reports on these players' statuses have made their way to Twitter with the following updates from the Steelers' official Twitter account.
First, we get this about Brown:
Curtis Brown tore his left ACL and will miss the remainder of the season.— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 25, 2013
Then this about McLendon:
NT Steve McLendon has a right ankle sprain that will force him to miss Thursday's game in Baltimore.— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 25, 2013
However, things were slight better concerning the other injured players:
Coach Tomlin is not ruling out Brett Keisel, Shamarko Thomas or LaMarr Woodley for Thursday.— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 25, 2013
In terms of impact, it would be ideal to get Woodley back for Thursday's game, and with depth considerations, Keisel would be a welcome addition as well.
What Must Improve
In the first matchup of these two teams earlier in the year, both struggled to move the football, and if not for some exceptional returns and a terrific performance from kicker Shaun Suisham, the Steelers almost certainly would not have pulled off the close victory.
For this week's game, the area to focus on is to continue to build on the momentum of the past three games. Use this newfound balance on offense and the improving defense to maintain this hot streak.
Balance will be key on offense since the Ravens rank 11th in the league against both the run and the pass. On defense, it will be keeping Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith in check. After last Sunday's problems with Browns wideout Josh Gordon, changes in approach must be installed quickly.
All stats provided by NFL.com.