Ravens defense prepares for both Batch and Big Ben

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Ravens defense prepares for both Batch and Big Ben

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) Less than two weeks ago, the Baltimore Ravens frustrated fleet-footed quarterback Byron Leftwich and defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers to take control of the AFC North.

In the rematch Sunday, the Ravens will face a quarterback with a different skill set. Whether it will be soft-tossing Charlie Batch or the gritty and poised Ben Roethlisberger remains to be seen.

Batch went the distance last week in a loss to last-place Cleveland. The 37-year-old completed 20 for 34 passes for 199 yards but threw three interceptions, explaining in part why Pittsburgh didn't score in the second half and finished with a whopping eight turnovers.

Roethlisberger has been sidelined since hurting his ribs and right (throwing) shoulder in a Nov. 12 win over Kansas City. The two-time Super Bowl winner threw in practice this week but is questionable for Sunday.

The Ravens (9-2) have no idea whether Batch or Big Ben will be calling the signals at M&T Bank Stadium. So they're preparing for both.

``We really don't care who lines up at quarterback,'' Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard said. ``For us, it's a game that's going to be physical. They're going to try to win whoever's under center. If Ben plays, I know what kind of competitor he is. This guy is probably one of the strongest quarterbacks in the National Football League and one of the most competitive, him and Philip Rivers. But when it's all said and done, whoever lines up, lines up. We have our own situation to take care of. We really don't care.''

The Ravens can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the desperate Steelers (6-5), who have lost two straight with Roethlisberger watching from the sideline. Leftwich broke his ribs in a 13-10 loss to Baltimore on Nov. 18, and last week Batch was part of an attack that lost the ball four times in the fourth quarter.

In the days leading up to the first meeting between the teams, the Ravens knew by Wednesday that Leftwich would start at quarterback. There is no such certainty this week, but the course of action remains identical.

``We'll do the same thing we did last time and the same thing we do every week: We'll prepare for their offense,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ``Whatever quarterback ends up playing in this game, he's going to be very capable of running their offense very well. We've seen that before. We've seen that from experience.''

Leftwich was rusty, yet he still managed to throw for 201 yards and score a touchdown. Batch lost last week, but he's 5-3 as a starter with Pittsburgh.

Roethlisberger is in a category of his own, with statistics and a winning percentage that can be measured up against any quarterback in the league. But he's hurting, which could influence his effectiveness.

Still, an injured Roethlisberger is better than no Roethlisberger at all.

``If he's in there, he's in there. It definitely changes things if he plays,'' Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. ``But if he doesn't play, we still have to go out there and play the game. No game is won on paper. It's still the Pittsburgh Steelers. They're going to come in, they're going to be hungry and will be trying to get a win.''

Whether it's Batch or Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh's quarterback will have more talent at his disposal than Leftwich did in the earlier meeting between these AFC North rivals. Wide receiver Antonio Brown returns after missing three games with a high-ankle sprain, and the Steelers added wideout Plaxico Burress last week.

``Obviously he's a heck of a player. A red-zone threat,'' Harbaugh said of Burress. ``He can run every route, he can make every catch. Just a great player.''

The key for the Steelers is having someone who can effectively get Burress the ball. The Ravens don't know if it will be Batch or Roethlisberger, or maybe even Leftwich again?

``We need to watch film on Leftwich, Batch and Roethlisberger,'' Pollard said. ``When it's all said and done, they still have the same concepts. We're going to be ready.''

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NFL announces locations for 2019, 2020 and 2021 Super Bowls

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NFL announces locations for 2019, 2020 and 2021 Super Bowls

The NFL has decided on the locations of the 2019, 2020 and 2021 Super Bowls. The vote took place at the NFL owners meetings in Charlotte on Tuesday. 

Atlanta will host Super Bowl LIII in 2019, while South Florida (Miami) will get the event in 2020 and Los Angeles will host in 2021. 

The cities chosen each included new or upgraded stadiums in their pitches to the league. 

Atlanta will be home to the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, opening in 2017. 

Miami's stadium (Sun Life Stadium from 2010-2016) is undergoing a $400 million renovation that will include an open-air canopy to provide shade for 92 percent of seats, according to Sports Illustrated. Construction should be complete before the 2017 season. 

And Los Angeles will boast a new 300-acre, campus-style stadium housing the Rams and potentially a second team. The $2.6 billion project will be the most expensive sports arena in the world, reports CNN, and should be ready before the 2019 NFL season. 

AFC North: Bengals' Eifert expected to miss three months due to surgery

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AFC North: Bengals' Eifert expected to miss three months due to surgery

Bengals Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert will undergo ankle surgery, according to multiple reports.

Estimates varied on when Eifert would return, but he was not expected to be back on the field until at least mid-August.

Eifert suffered his injury at the Pro Bowl, which he left wearing a walking boot.

His ankle has not responded to treatment as well as Eifert hoped, and he could not join his teammates for OTA’s this week.

A first-round pick in 2013 (21st overall), Eifert led all NFL tight ends with 13 touchdown catches last season, and had 52 catches overall for 615 yards. Still only 25 years old, Eifert has emerged as a major weapon for the Bengals, and they have already picked up his fifth-year option.

The priority for the Bengals is to have Eifert ready for Week 1 when they visit the Jets. Ryan Hewitt, Tyler Kroft, and C. J. Uzomah will see plenty of reps at tight end until Eifert returns.

RELATED: THREE REASONS WHY JOE FLACCO CAN RETURN TO THE TOP

 

NFL owners vote for modest changes to replay, shun overhaul

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NFL owners vote for modest changes to replay, shun overhaul

The NFL made modest changes to replay rules Tuesday, but did not institute major changes that some teams, including the Ravens, had proposed in recent months.

Owners voted for changes that slightly increased situations where plays can be reviewed, and when officials can turn to the league office for help during games.

Situations subject to replay review, which were not before, include:

- Penalty enforcement

- Proper down

- Spot of a foul

- Status of game clock

Plays not reviewable in the past, that can now be reviewed, include:

- Where a ball in the air crosses the sideline.

- Whether a player was blocked into a loose ball.

- Advancement by a player after either a valid, or invalid, fair catch signal.

- Whether player impetus forced a ball to travel into the end zone.

The Ravens made a proposal in March that would have made all plays reviewable except for offensive and defensive holding, offensive and defensive pass interference, illegal contact, illegal use of hands, and whether a quarterback, receiver, or kicker had been hit illegally. The Patriots had previously proposed that all plays be made reviewable, but that has also been resisted by the owners and the competition committee.

Each team will still be given two replay challenges per game, and will be awarded a third challenge only if the first two are successful.