Baltimore Ravens (8-4) at Houston Texans (5-7)
— Keep an eye on who Baltimore lines up as its starting tight end on Monday Night. Todd Heap (hamstring) didn’t practice Thursday and is expected to miss his first game of the season. Rookie third-round pick Ed Dickson would replace him — but it’s a major downgrade in talent if he does. Heap has been one of QB Joe Flacco‘s favorite targets this year, hauling in 37 passes for 546 yards and five TDs.
— The Ravens have held three straight teams to under 14 points and will look to continue that trend against the high-flying Texans. Houston averages 24 points per game and can run the ball (courtesy Arian Foster) just as well as they can air it out (with Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson).
— Even though the Texans are at 5-7 and on the outside of the playoff picture, it isn’t all bad, as the team has been in this situation before. This is the fourth consecutive season Houston has been at 5-7 heading into Week 14 –yet they’ve found a way to finish quite strongly, going 3-1, 3-1 and 4-0 over the last three seasons.
— DE Mario Williams has been playing with a sports hernia that keeps him out of practice. He has 8.5 sacks, giving him 48 in his career. During that five-year period, he ranks fourth in the league behind Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware (66), Minnesota’s Jared Allen (60.5) and Philadelphia’s Trent Cole (51).
Cincinnati Bengals (2-10) at Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3)
— Lots of issues in the Cincy secondary. CB Rico Murray missed practice all week due to an ankle injury suffered against the Jets two weeks ago. He’s listed as doubtful. CB Jonathan Joseph is expected to miss a fourth straight game, also due to an ankle injury, despite participating (in a limited fashion) in Friday’s practice. This could be huge for a Pittsburgh passing game that hasn’t looked good in recent weeks.
— All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday this week, but is expected to play on Sunday. The Steelers are a dramatically different defense when Polamalu is in the lineup, so this is great news for Pittsburgh but decidedly less welcome for the Bengals. Carson Palmer has thrown a lot of picks this season and Polamalu strikes fear in the hearts of opposing wide receivers. Will be interesting to see how Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco perform with Polamalu on the field.