TV: CBS (coverage map)
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates
What To Watch For
1. Football, yay
Hey folks, remember football? It's that thing that's played at the big stadium on the North Side? I know, it seems like forever since there has actually been a game. As it turns out, results aren't actually determined by people talking, it's by players playing. By now, you're probably sick of the talk about what Mike Tomlin did or didn't do (I was sick of it by Saturday, but we had to listen to it until Thursday). So yes, the Pittsburgh Steelers will actually line up and play a game of football against the Miami Dolphins. This game is of monumental importance to the Steelers slim playoff chances, which are barely hanging on by a thread at this point. The good news is that the Steelers have beat the Dolphins in 5 straight meetings, with the last Dolphins win coming in 1998. The Dolphins haven't won in Pittsburgh since September 1990 and the Fins only have 1 win in Pittsburgh after Halloween (in the 1972 AFC Championship Game).
2. A Tale of Two Wallaces
Mike Wallace returns to Pittsburgh after cashing in with the Dolphins in the offseason. He played three great seasons here and one mediocre season. Stories have resurfaced this week about the quotes he made last year complaining about not getting the ball enough. Those quotes were bullshit. Wallace has been on a bit of a hot streak lately, with 12 catches, 209 yards and 2 TDs in his last two games. Over his first 10 games he had 44 catches, 535 yards, and only 1 score. The other Wallace is Cody Wallace who will be the guy snapping the ball to Ben Roethlisberger. He will be the fourth center Ben has worked with this season. Amazingly, there have been very few issues with the center-quarterback exchange to date. Cody Wallace's ability to step in and control the interior of the line of scrimmage will be key to keeping Ben clean and getting the running game going.
3. Injuries, injuries, injuries
At this point, who isn't hurt? Somehow, the offensive line which resembles a patchwork quilt that has had patches placed over patches hasn't given up a sack in two games. Center Fernando Velasco was placed on injured reserve and Cody Wallace will be manning the position against Miami. Guard David DeCastro has ranked as one of the best guards in the conference this season according to Pro Football Focus, but he has battled a variety of foot and ankle injuries. Kelvin Beachum has done a yeoman's job at left tackle since replacing Mike Adams but he is doubtful for this game with a knee injury. Adams replaced Beachum and had a cup of tea last week before going down with an ankle injury. Adams is probable to make the start at left tackle. On defense, LaMarr Woodley is scheduled to return to the lineup, which creates an interesting situation because Jason Worlids has actually played well in replacement of Woodley this year. Brett Keisel will be out with a foot injury and the Steelers could roll with just 4 defensive linemen, depending on Steve McLendon's availability.
4. Antonio Brown's historic pace
With 4 games left in the season, Antonio Brown already has the 5th most receptions of any Steelers receiver in a season. The top 4 spots are all held by Hines Ward, with the most being Ward's 112 in 2002. Brown currently sits at 85, but he is averaging 7.1 receptions per game and would finish the season with 113 if his current pace holds. The next stepping stones should be much easier to surpass: Hines' 2nd, 3rd and 4th best seasons had 95, 95 and 94 catches respectively. Brown could surpass those marks with either a monster double-digit catch game this week. From a yardage perspective, Brown actually has less ground to make up. The yardage record is held by Yancey Thigpen at 1398 yards in 1997. Brown currently has 1103, putting him just 295 yards behind Thigpen with 4 games to play. Brown is averaging 91.9 yards per game, which puts him on pace to finish the season with 1471 yards. The 91.9 per game average is the second most in Steelers history, trailing Buddy Dial's 92.5 set in 1963.
5. Win and Pray
With last week's loss to the Ravens, the Steelers no longer control their own destiny in the last quarter of the season. It seems like each game this season has been a microcosm of the season in general. The team gets off to a bad start and puts themselves behind the 8-ball (like they did with an 0-4 start). They more or less hold serve in the second quarter and carry a deficit into halftime (2-2 record in the second 4 games of the season, 2-6 at the midpoint). The third quarter the team starts to turn it around and get themselves back into the game (3-1 record in the last 4 games), but they might just be too far behind to make it all up in the 4th quarter. As strange as it might sound though, the Steelers path to the playoffs is not all that difficult on paper. They only have to find a way to surpass Baltimore and Miami. With a win over Miami this week, the Steelers would get the head-to-head tiebreaker and put themselves right in the race with Baltimore. It would be a huge help if the Vikings could find a way to beat the Ravens this week. It would also be helpful (but not necessary) if Denver beats Tennessee and the Giants beat San Diego.