The Baltimore Ravens enter December with the best record in the AFC, but their recent performances have been anything but pretty.
The Ravens may be destined for another low-scoring affair Sunday when they visit the Pittsburgh Steelers in a matchup of AFC North rivals.
Baltimore (8-3) heads into the weekend a half-game ahead of the New England Patriots (8-4) and Tennessee Titans (8-4) for the top spot in the conference. Only the No. 1 seed gets a first-round playoff bye, so the Ravens certainly cannot afford many slip-ups over their final six games.
However, Baltimore -- and quarterback Lamar Jackson, in particular -- need to play better than they have of late.
Jackson threw a career-high four interceptions Sunday night in a 16-10 win over the Cleveland Browns. He also threw for a season-low 165 yards and was sacked multiple times for the ninth time in 10 games.
"Bad passes, inaccurate, underthrown passes. That's all I've seen. Bad reads," Jackson said. "I looked like a rookie."
Jackson, of course, is highly accomplished as an NFL quarterback, as is Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers' QB also has had some forgettable performances this season, including Sunday's 41-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Roethlisberger was picked off twice and completed just 58.5 percent of his passes in that one -- his second-lowest total of the season. He also was sacked three times, raising his total to 10 sacks absorbed over the last three games.
"Someone once said, 'Games like this are like bubblegum. You chew 'em for a little bit and you spit 'em out.' That's kind of what I'm doing, so I'm moving on. I have no comments about last week because it's bubblegum that's been spit out."
The Steelers (5-5-1) have a three-game winless streak that began with a tie against the lowly Detroit Lions and continued with road defeats to the Los Angeles Chargers and Bengals.
Pittsburgh, which currently sits alone in last place in the AFC North, is running out of time to earn some victories. The Steelers have a challenging upcoming schedule that includes matchups with the Titans and Kansas City Chiefs, as well as a tough regular-season finale in Baltimore.
"It is (a must-win)," Roethlisberger said. "Everything moving forward has to be that way. That's the hole we've put ourselves in. Every game has to be the most important game of the year. We all need to approach it that way."
As for the Ravens, they have averaged only 14 points over the last three games. Still, Mark Andrews has been a bright spot, ranking second among NFL tight ends in catches (60) and receiving yards (761).
On the other side of the ball, standout defensive lineman Calais Campbell is in concussion protocol after exiting early against Cleveland. He warmed up Wednesday before heading indoors and could be available to face Pittsburgh.
"We'll just see where it goes," coach John Harbaugh said.
Pittsburgh likely will be without star linebacker T.J. Watt, who was placed on the COVID-19 list on Monday. Watt, who has battled knee and hip injuries this season, ranks second in the NFL with 12.5 sacks.
The Steelers activated receiver/returner Ray-Ray McLeod from the COVID list and expect to have him on the field Sunday as a complement to Diontae Johnson, who leads the team in catches (68) and receiving yards (809).
Pittsburgh leads the all-time series 27-23 and won both matchups last season.
--Field Level Media