Baltimore Ravens (4-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2)
KICKOFF: Monday, 8:30 ET
TV: ESPN, Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Tony Kornheiser, Suzy Kolber, Michele Tafoya
SERIES: 23rd meeting. Ravens trail in the series, 19-13. The Ravens have won the last three meetings, including their first season sweep of the Steelers in the divisional rivalry. In the Ravens' last trip to Pittsburgh, they won 31-7, marking their first win at Heinz Field since 2001. Steve McNair threw touchdown passes of 35, 1 and 25 yards. That was more than enough points for a Ravens defense that held the Steelers to 251 total yards and forced three turnovers.
PREDICTION: Steelers 27-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: Coming out of their bye week, the Ravens are as healthy as they have been all season and confident their pedestrian offense is ready to start producing on a more consistent basis. QB Steve McNair will return after missing two starts, and if LT Jonathan Ogden can play for the first time since the season opener, Baltimore might be able to improve on the No. 26 scoring offense in the league (17.7 points per game). McNair must capitalize on drives with the Ravens scoring just seven touchdowns in 23 red-zone possessions. ... The Steelers might have to be willing to get out of their comfort zone, which is using the run to set up play-action. RB Willie Parker was held to 51 combined rushing yards in two meetings last year, and the Ravens are ranked second in the NFL this season allowing just 71.9 rushing yards per game. QB Ben Roethlisberger, who was sacked 31 times in last year's meetings, has to continue making good decisions in the face of pressure, especially with the Ravens having fresh legs coming off their bye.
KEY INJURIES: Ravens: DT Trevor Pryce (broken left wrist) is expected to play in passing situations after missing five games; CB Chris McAlister (knee sprain) hopes to play, but remains uncertain; LT Jonathan Ogden (toe), TE Todd Heap (hamstring) and OT Adam Terry (ankle sprain) expect to play.
FAST FACTS: The Ravens are 31-5 since 2003 when recording at least three sacks. ... The Steelers will wear their throwback uniforms with yellow helmets to commemorate their All-Time team in their 75th season.
--CB Chris McAlister might miss Monday night's game at the Pittsburgh Steelers with a strained right knee. He had been optimistic about playing earlier but he has yet to practice this week. Ravens coach Brian Billick seemed pessimistic about the Pro Bowl cornerback's chances of playing. He would be replaced by nickel back Corey Ivy.
--CB Corey Ivy could start in place of Chris McAlister if the starting cornerback is sidelined with a knee injury. McAlister hasn't practiced this week, and coach Brian Billick hinted that he might be out. Ivy struggled when he filled in for McAlister against Buffalo, getting beat on a couple of deep passes.
--CB Derrick Martin is expected to play nickel back because Corey Ivy likely will start for injured Chris McAlister. Martin is a tough competitor and bounces back quickly after giving up a completion. He is limited and could be exposed if he plays regularly.
--TE Todd Heap returned to practice although he was limited with a hamstring injury. He has missed two of the past three games with the injury. Heap said he expects to start barring a setback in practice.
--TE Daniel Wilcox did not practice and could be a candidate for injured reserve. He has not been a factor all season because of multiple injuries.
--DE Aaron Smith did not practice again Thursday and remains in question for Monday night's game. Smith missed his first game last week after playing in 115 in a row.
-- FS Ryan Clark has not practiced this week and likely will miss his second straight game with a spleen problem. Anthony Smith will replace him.
-- FB Dan Kreider practiced for the first time this week and is likely to play. He has had some of his best games blocking against Ray Lewis and the Ravens.
-- WR Santonio Holmes, who has a bruised thigh, returned to practice and likely will start Monday. He leads the Steelers with 26 receptions and 426 yards.
-- TE Jerame Tuman did not practice and likely won't play because of a back problem. OT Max Starks will be used as the third tight end in blocking situations.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Ravens might be playing without cornerback Chris McAlister when they face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night.
While McAlister hopes that he could improve to play, Ravens coach Brian Billick seemed more pessimistic about the Pro Bowl cornerback's chances, hinting that the team might have to play without him. Corey Ivy, the Ravens' nickel back, would start in McAlister's place.
Asked if it would be difficult for McAlister to play Monday, Billick said, "Probably. We'll have to see how the week progresses, but that would be the one I'm most concerned about."
Nearly three weeks ago, the Ravens estimated McAlister would miss one game and return to play Pittsburgh.
McAlister, who sat out the game against the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 21, said he has been running to strengthen the knee and has been encouraged by the improvement in the knee's stability and flexibility.
"It's nowhere near as bad as it was a week ago," said McAlister, who wore a brace on the knee two weeks ago. "From last week to this week, it's night and day."
But McAlister said he didn't know if he would be able to suit up against the Steelers.
"It could just as well be a game-day decision," he said. "It's just a matter of making the best decision for the team in the long haul. Whether it be I come back and play or don't, whatever decision is made is going to be in the best interest of my health."
Quarterback Steve McNair, who missed the past two games with groin and back injuries, has practiced all week with the starting offense and hasn't experienced any setbacks.
"I don't mean to be the doctor here, but I think he's 100 percent healthy," Billick said. "The way he's throwing the ball, you can certainly see the freshness."
McNair said the three weeks off -- two missed games along with the bye -- allowed him to get healthy.
"It gave me time to heal up," McNair said. "I played with a lot of confidence (in practice) and didn't worry about the injuries. It's kind of tough when you have injuries to go out there and compete.
McNair is ready to show that his early struggles were the result of injuries and that he can still be a starting quarterback in this league.
"I think you just go out there and make better plays, no matter (if I use) my arm or my legs, now that I'm healthy," he said. "I think that's going to be the key regardless of how you keep the chains moving. Whether it's throwing the ball or it's taking off running, now that I'm healthy, I can do a lot of different things."
McNair said he was pleased to see the return of some injured starters to the offensive line.
The Ravens welcomed back two opening-day starters in offensive tackles Jonathan Ogden and Adam Terry. Ogden (hyperextended toe) manned his usual left tackle position, while Terry (sprained ankle) took the right side.
The Steelers may be 10-point favorites by the time they kick off against Baltimore Monday night, but they have to wonder why that number isn't flip-flopped.
The Ravens humiliated them in two games last season by a combined 58-7 score. The second game was the next-to-last of the season when the Ravens eliminated the Steelers from playoff contention with a 31-7 victory in Heinz Field.
Pittsburgh finished 8-8, but the Steelers were 6-2 in the second half of that season. Both losses came to Baltimore.
"They kind of took it to us twice last year, there's no denying that," tight end Heath Miller said. "We weren't able to run the football against them both games, and I think they were just a little more physical than we were both times."
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 14 times and hit so hard by linebacker Bart Scott on one of them it caused Roethlisberger to say it was the hardest he's ever been hit. Willie Parker managed just 51 yards on 23 carries in the two games.
Coordinator Bruce Arians promised that the Steelers WILL run on Baltimore Monday night. He said they were confused by Baltimore's defense in the games last season.
"They had us in a mindset quickly where confusion set in and they rattled all of us," Arians said.
Wide receiver Hines Ward promised a different approach Monday night.
"This is a total different makeup of a team than we had last year," Ward said. "It has a new mindset, new head coach, new philosophies. For us, what happened last year, happened last year. It wasn't a great year."