PITTSBURGH (5-8) at CAROLINA (5-8)
Sunday, 1 p.m. EST, CBS
FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK NFL LINE: Panthers by 2 1/2.
AGAINST THE SPREAD: Pittsburgh 6-6-1, Carolina 7-6.
SERIES RECORD: Steelers lead 6-1.
LAST MEETING: Steelers beat Panthers 52-21 on Nov. 18, 2018, in Pittsburgh.
LAST WEEK: Steelers lost to Ravens 16-14; Panthers beat Seahawks 30-24.
STEELERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (26), RUSH (19), PASS (24), SCORING (27).
STEELERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (22), RUSH (15), PASS (24), SCORING (14).
PANTHERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (30), RUSH (13), PASS (30), SCORING (24).
PANTHERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (16), RUSH (24), PASS (15), SCORING (13).
TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Steelers even; Panthers minus-2.
STEELERS PLAYER TO WATCH: WR George Pickens. The rookie has endured an uneven season but showcased once again last week against Baltimore that he is Pittsburgh’s best downfield passing threat by a wide margin, catching all three passes for 78 yards and drawing a pass interference penalty that set up a touchdown. He was only targeted once after halftime, however, a number that needs to tick up no matter who is at quarterback.
PANTHERS PLAYER TO WATCH: DT Derrick Brown has been the anchor of Carolina's run defense this season. The 2020 first-round draft pick out of Auburn has 51 tackles and needs four more to tie Kawann Short (55 in 2015 and 2016) for the most tackles by a Panthers defensive tackle in a single season.
KEY MATCHUP: Panthers RBs D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard vs. Steelers defense. The Panthers are coming off a 223-yard rushing performance at Seattle, led by 74 yards each from Foreman and Hubbard. Carolina’s 223 yards are the second most this season and the second most league-wide in Week 14 in the NFL. Since Week 7, Carolina is fourth in the league with 237 rushing attempts and fifth in the league with 1,082 yards. Pittsburgh is allowing 115.8 yards per game on the ground.
KEY INJURIES: QB Kenny Pickett was limited in practice during the week after entering the concussion protocol for the second time in two months but will play if cleared. Coach Mike Tomlin did not commit to either Mitch Trubisky or Mason Rudolph if Pickett can’t go. ... Pittsburgh lost DE Chris Wormley to a season-ending left knee injury against Baltimore. Steelers RB Najee Harris (hip), LB Myles Jack (groin), TE Pat Freiermuth (foot) and DT Larry Ogunjobi (toe) missed time during the week but will likely play. ... Panthers WR D.J. Moore injured his ankle in Sunday's game, but did return to practice on Wednesday and is expected to play. However, Moore did not have a catch last week against the Seahawks, and the Panthers may need to rely more on Terrace Marshall Jr, Laviska Shenault and Shi Smith against the Steelers if he's banged up.
SERIES NOTES: The Panthers won the first matchup in 1996, a 16-14 victory that allowed them to win their first division title in just their second season in the NFL. But Pittsburgh has owned Carolina ever since, winning the past six matchups by an average margin of 36-13. All six of those Pittsburgh wins have been by at least 10 points, including a 52-21 triumph in 2018.
STATS AND STUFF: The Panthers will win the NFC South if they go 4-0 the remainder of the season. All four remaining games are against teams with losing records. ... At 5-8, the Steelers need to win their final four games to avoid the first losing season of Tomlin’s 16-year tenure. ... Pittsburgh’s run defense was pushed around last week against Baltimore even with the Ravens starting backup quarterback Tyler Huntley then going to third-stringer Anthony Brown. The Steelers gave up 215 yards on the ground and now have to face a Panthers club that has piled up 408 yards rushing over its past two games. ... Steelers LB T.J. Watt picked up his first full sack since Week 1 last Sunday, but has just 2 1/2 sacks in six games and is dealing with a rib injury that likely won’t fully heal until the offseason. ... Expect a close game. Those are the only ones the Steelers seem to play. Pittsburgh has been in 20 one-score games since the start of 2021, third most in the NFL behind Baltimore and Minnesota. The Steelers are 12-8 in those games. ... If the Steelers win, Tomlin would become the third-fastest coach in NFL history to reach 160 wins (253 games). ... Carolina is 4-3 at home this season. ... QB Sam Darnold is 2-0 as the team's starter since returning from a high ankle sprain that kept him on injured reserve most of the season. Darnold hasn't turned the ball over in two starts. ... RB D'Onta Foreman leads the Panthers with 637 yards rushing. ... DE Brian Burns has 10 1/2 sacks and needs 4 1/2 more sacks this season to tie Kevin Greene (1998) and Greg Hardy (2013) for the franchise single-season record with 15. ... PK Eddy Pineiro has connected on 25 field goals and trails just Seattle's Jason Myers (Seattle) in field goal rate at 92.6%. Pineiro is currently tied for ninth in the NFL with 11 field goals made from at least 40 yards. ... CB Jaycee Horn has been playing at a high level and had his third interception of the season against Seattle last week. Horn nearly had a fourth pick, but bobbled the pass as his momentum carried him out of bounds.
FANTASY TIP: Foreman has run for at least 100 yards in four of Carolina's past seven games. And while the team reduced his role last week by giving more carries to Hubbard and Raheem Blackshear, he's expected to be a major factor on Sunday.
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