BALTIMORE -- Ravens Pro Bowl tailback Ray Rice could barely contain himself.
"It all boils down to this," Rice said. "When you have the Steelers coming in here, it's all set up to be a big game. The records are what they are, we're both 8-3, and it's no excuses."
The Ravens, who are playing great football, beat the Steelers at Heinz Field last month while Ben Roethlisberger served his four-game suspension. If the Ravens are truly the best team in the division, they must prove it by pulling off a rare season sweep over Pittsburgh. Since 2000, the Ravens have swept the Steelers only once, in 2006.
For the Steelers (8-3), it's fair to say they weren't at full strength in their first meeting with Baltimore. But if Pittsburgh is really the dominant team in the AFC North, it must do what no opponent has done at M&T Bank Stadium this season: win. The Ravens are 5-0 at home.
May the smartest and most physical team win.
"We just don't like them, but we respect them," Ravens defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs said of Pittsburgh. "It's going to be championship football."
The Steelers are winning, but they didn't look impressive in their overtime victory over the lowly Buffalo Bills (2-9) on Sunday. Pittsburgh survived 10 penalties, a fumble and a dropped touchdown pass by Buffalo's Steve Johnson in the extra period.
Meanwhile, the Ravens believe they have momentum. "We wanted to take care of business to get to this game," said Rice, who rushed for 85 yards on 20 carries against Tampa Bay. "The season was set up the way it was supposed to be. I'm just glad we took care of business against everybody else for it to be set up like this."
Here are other observations from Baltimore's win over the Bucs:
Ravens' D peaking at the right time: Baltimore's defense is playing its best football of the season. The Ravens rattled Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman, who completed 17 of 37 passes for just 162 yards. He padded his stats with a touchdown late in the fourth quarter as the Bucs tried to rally. Baltimore also held Tampa Bay tailback LeGarrette Blount to 55 yards rushing. Since giving up a late touchdown in the loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 11, the Ravens have played inspired on defense. They've allowed only 23 points in their past two games.
Derrick Mason gets it going: There was a lot of discussion in Baltimore last week about Mason's heated sideline altercation with Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Both players said they quickly moved past their differences and proved it against the Bucs. Flacco made a concerted effort to get Mason involved. The veteran receiver led Baltimore with eight receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown. He was targeted 13 times and was effective.
"We've got so many guys that are able to catch the ball that defenses just have to try to pick and choose what they're going to stop," Mason said. "They were playing me one-on-one or off-coverage a lot, so Joe looked my way today."
Injury concerns: Two key players to watch for the Ravens this week will be Ravens starting left tackle Michael Oher (knee sprain) and safety Dawan Landry (concussion). Both players were hurt in the second half and didn't return, but each believes he'll be ready to play against the Steelers.
Offense has tale of two halves: Baltimore's offense was explosive in the first half and stalled in the second half. The Ravens scored 17 points in the second quarter points to give them a lead they would never relinquish. Flacco put up good numbers, throwing for 289 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He had a passer rating of 103.2. But with the defense performing well, Baltimore appeared content to playing it safe in the second half and didn't do too much on offense. The Ravens' offense will need four strong quarters against Pittsburgh. "The second quarter was huge for us," Flacco said. "Without that, we weren't able to accomplish too much."