BALTIMORE -- Let's call what the latest installment of one of the NFL's fiercest rivalries what it is: a de facto elimination game.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens are 5-6, and the loser of Thursday night's game drops out of the AFC North race. It also faces long odds in making the AFC playoffs as a wild-card team with so many 5-6 teams bunched together.
Here is a look at what must happen -- as well as what cannot happen -- if the Steelers are to beat the Ravens and sweep them for the first time since 2008.
Steelers win if...
1. Ben Roethlisberger continues to shine: Roethlisberger is playing his best football and at a level similar to last season before a midseason shoulder injury derailed him. As much as Roethlisberger has taken his game to the next level since the Steelers ditched no-huddle offense's training wheels he has done just as good a job of taking care of the football. Roethlisberger has thrown just one interception during the Steelers' three-game winning streak, and he hasn't lost any fumbles during that span. The way Roethlisberger has been playing if the Steelers can keep it close and give him a chance to win the game at the end they have to like their chances.
2. They make the Ravens settle for touchdowns instead of field goals: The Steelers did an excellent job the first time these fierce rivals met this season of keeping the Ravens out of the end zone. The one notable exception was when Joe Flacco led a 12-play 78-yard touchdown drive that allowed the Ravens to tie the score late in the fourth quarter. Three times prior to that touchdown, which set the stage for Roethlisberger to set-up a game-winning field goal by Shaun Suisham, the Ravens had to settle for three Justin Tucker field goals. Take away the second quarter against the Lions and the Steelers haven't allowed a meaningful touchdown in their last 11 quarters.
3. They force Flacco to throw underneath: The Steelers, prone to giving up big plays this season, allowed just one to Flacco last month. And the defense minimized the damage of Torrey Smith's 41-yard reception by holding the Ravens to a field goal. Flacco is one of the better deep ball throwers in the NFL, but he averaged just 6.3 yards per pass earlier this season at Heinz Field. The Steelers will again try to keep the Ravens' receivers in front of them and tackle the catch -- and force Flacco to put together long touchdown drives to beat them.
Steelers lose if...
1. Offensive line takes a step back: This oft-maligned unit should take a ton of confidence into this game after allowing just one sack the last two weeks. But the degree of difficulty in running the no-huddle offense increases significantly because of the crowd noise. The fans will force the Steelers to use a silent snap count and require the linemen to rise above the din to avoid penalties that suffocate drives. Yeah, the Steelers faced crowd noise last week in Cleveland but the Browns took their own crowd out of the game with their dink-and-dunk offense and by falling behind in the second quarter. Expect the crowd at M&T Bank Stadium to be electric from start to finish.
2. They lose the turnover battle in lopsided fashion: The Steelers are plus-seven in turnover differential during their three-game winning streak, and they need to at least take care of the football the way they have while pulling their season back from the brink. The turnover factor is magnified in rivalry games that are often decided by a field goal, and it could go either way Thursday. While the Steelers are minus-four in turnover differential this season, the Ravens are only minus-three in that all-important statistic.
3. Ray Rice finds his footing: Rice has just one 100-yard rushing game this season and he has been ordinary as his surname. The Rice factor has been a strange one when determining the outcome of Ravens-Steelers games. He has rushed for 141 yards against the Steelers in a loss. He has rushed for 20 and 43 yards, respectively, in Ravens wins over the Steelers since he became the team's feature back in 2009. The significance to stopping Rice, who had 45 yards on 15 carries last month against the Steelers, is that doing so would put the Ravens in plenty of third-and-long situations. And that is when Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is at his best.