By Christina Rivers

With the holiday season in full swing, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been preparing for a Sunday rivalry game with the Baltimore Ravens. Several players shared holiday wishes ahead of the game, but their main focus remains on Week 16 and the penultimate game of the 2015 regular season. Both teams have made adjustments throughout the season due to injuries on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. On Sunday, Pittsburgh will once again have a relatively healthy roster to field on the road.

Set aside the season win-loss record because the Steelers and Ravens will be playing for bragging rights. The Steelers are looking to clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Ravens. Coupled with a loss by the New York Jets to the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh will earn that entry. “We emphasize how big an AFC North matchup is,” Steelers safety Robert Golden said earlier this week. “It’s a five-star matchup every time we play an AFC North team. The leaders and Coach (Mike) Tomlin emphasize it every time we have one and we have to go out there and execute.”

A handful of players on the Steelers’ roster missed some time from practice this week, but many took a typical veteran day off on Wednesday. Safety Will Allen missed practice on Thursday, as did cornerback William Gay, linebacker James Harrison, tight end Matt Spaeth and safety Mike Mitchell; only Mitchell and Spaeth are dealing with true injuries.

Everyone in the league is talking about the Steelers offense at this point in the season, including the Ravens. “I’m sure they’re top five in explosive plays,” said Baltimore linebacker C.J. Mosley. “Ben (Roethlisberger) does a great job of making great throws and we all see that he’s very hot right now throwing to his receivers…that’s definitely going to be a main focus for us. We have to make sure we play top-down coverage.”

Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton have truly shown their worth this season at the receiver position, helping to propel the offense to a high-scoring machine. “They’ve done a great job of setting up their scheme…they run the ball. They throw the controlled pass as well as anybody,” said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. “Big Ben has been on fire lately with his accuracy. They have numerous playmakers out there, and their coaches do a great job with those guys.”

The Ravens have some great athletes as well, and will be putting their best players and game plan in motion. “Our guys are capable…” said Harbaugh. “So, we’re not backing down from that challenge.”

Pittsburgh respects the challenge Baltimore offers them. “I think it’s the best rivalry in football,” Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward shared. “It’s a hard-hitting, physical game that the mentally tough always win. It doesn’t matter how it starts; it’s how you finish. You have to wrap your mind around playing four quarters and more.”

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler looks to continue to use a six-defensive back sub package again this week. That has required Pittsburgh to pull one of the most physical players and a strong leader in Lawrence Timmons. “I’m a team person,” said Timmons. “Whatever will help our defense out, whatever will put us in the best position, I’m all about it.” By putting six defensive backs into the game against the Denver Broncos on third and fourth down, the Steelers were able to limit big plays in the second half of the game and help the defense pitch a shutout as a unit. “It allows us to match up better when teams have four wide receivers,” Mitchell said, “or they have a really athletic tight end.”

Probable

Will Allen (S, not injury related)

William Gay (CB, not injury related)

James Harrison (LB, not injury related)

Mike Mitchell (S, shoulder)

Matt Spaeth (TE, knee)

Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a journalist and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied Exercise Physiology and Sports Psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL as well as a published author. Her work can be found on
Examiner.com.