Here is a look at some of the Week 13 games that ultimately could impact the Steelers over the final weeks of this 2015 regular season:
SUNDAY AFTERNOON** HOUSTON (6-5) at BUFFALO (5-6)
Texans are tied-for-first in AFC South
Bills are third in AFC East
Skinny: Texans have won three straight in this series, with the most recent being Sept. 28, 2014 when J.J. Watt returned an interception 80 yards for a touchdown. In past 7, QB BRIAN HOYER has passed for 1,673 yards with 14 TDs vs. 4 INTs for 97.6 rating. Has 2 TD passes in 6 of past 7. In past 16, J.J. WATT has 24.5 sacks, 3 FF, FR, safety, 7 PDs & TD catch, incl. 2 sacks last week. Since 2011, leads league with 70.5 sacks … In his past 7 starts, QB TYROD TAYLOR has completed 128 of 201 (63.7 pct.) for 1,523 yards with 10 TDs vs. 1 INT for 101.2 rating. Since 2011, DT MARCELL DAREUS ranks 3rd among NFL DTs with 30.5 sacks.
Impact on the Steelers: Houston entered Week 13 of this 2015 regular season as the No. 6 seed in the AFC, while Buffalo begins at No. 10. Depending upon the outcome of Steelers-Colts, this could be an elimination game for the loser of this contest. If Indianapolis wins, and the Bills win here, the Texans will go from having a shot at a division title to getting thrown into the Wild Card mix. If the Steelers win, and the Bills lose this one, Buffalo would drop two games in the loss column behind Pittsburgh and fall even farther down the list in the AFC. The Texans' next two games are vs. New England and at Indianapolis, while the Bills go on a three-game swing vs. the NFC East, with games at Philadelphia, at Washington, and vs. Dallas.
CINCINNATI (9-2) at CLEVELAND (2-9)
Bengals are first in AFC North
Browns are fourth in AFC North
Skinny: The Bengals have won 3 of the last 4 meetings in this series, and Coach Marvin Lewis is 17-8 all-time vs. the Browns. TE TYLER EIFERT leads NFL with 12 TD catches, most ever by Bengals TE in a season. Cincinnati is only NFL team to have 2 players with 8 sacks in 2015 – DE CARLOS DUNLAP (8.5) & DT GENO ATKINS (8). S REGGIE NELSON leads NFL with career-high 6 INTs … Browns QB AUSTIN DAVIS completed 7 of 10 for 77 yards & TD vs. 0 INTs for 125.8 rating last week. Rookie RB DUKE JOHNSON JR. ranks 2nd in rec. (44) & rec. yards (410) among AFC RBs.
Impact in the Steelers**: The Bengals snapped their two-game losing streak last weekend, and a game against a Browns team set to start Austin Davis at quarterback figures to end with the Bengals on a two-game winning streak. With Denver now playing for a-still-to-be-determined time without Peyton Manning, the Bengals know that by continuing to win they can solidify their hold on the AFC's No. 2 seed and the first-round playoff bye that comes as a reward. The Bengals have to know their season will be defined by how they fare in the playoffs, and getting a bye would put them one postseason win away from a spot in the AFC Championship Game. The No. 2 seed likely will be decided by the outcome of Cincinnati at Denver on Monday, Dec. 28, eight days after the Steelers visit Paul Brown Stadium for a 1 p.m. rematch in the annual AFC North home-and-home series.
N.Y. JETS (6-5) at N.Y. GIANTS (5-6)
Jets are second in AFC East
Giants are tied-for-first in NFC East
Skinny: The Jets have lost the past five games in this series. In past 10, DE SHELDON RICHARDSON has 8 sacks & FF. In past 9, DE MUHAMMAD WILKERSON has 7 sacks & FF. CB DARRELLE REVIS has 6 total takeaways (3 FRs, 3 INTs), tied for 2nd in NFL … QB ELI MANNING has won both career starts vs. NYJ. Has started 178 consecutive games, longest active streak in NFL. WR ODELL BECKHAM JR. has 21 TDs in 23 games.
Impact on the Steelers: As typically is the case in these inter-conference matchups, root for the NFC. The remaining games on the Jets' schedule don't include any teams figuring to be stiff competition for one of the Wild Card spots the Steelers seek, and so there's not any potential situations where keeping the Jets viable later into this regular season could end up being a benefit. Go, G-men.
KANSAS CITY (6-5) at OAKLAND (5-6)**
Chiefs are second in AFC West
Raiders are third in AFC West
Skinny: The Chiefs are looking to extend their winning streak to 6 after a 1-5 start to 2015. QB ALEX SMITH has attempted 283 consecutive passes without an INT, 4th-longest streak in NFL history. Since 2011, ranks 2nd in NFL in INT pct. (1.3 pct). Since 2014, TE TRAVIS KELCE ranks 3rd in AFC & 4th in NFL among TEs with 1,551 receiving yards … RB LATAVIUS MURRAY ranks 2nd in AFC with 765 rush yards. S CHARLES WOODSON (65) needs INT to surpass KEN RILEY (65) for No. 5 all-time. DE KHALIL MACK has 7 sacks in past 9, incl. 2 last week vs. Ten.
Impact on the Steelers: The Chiefs are consistently identified as being a team on the fast-track to a Wild Card spot, but it's somewhat difficult to view them as being capable of a nine-game winning streak, a 10-game winning streak, regardless of the caliber of the competition. Alex Smith is the best quarterback in the NFL if protecting the football is the goal, but can a team without Jamaal Charles and without dynamic talent at wide receiver actually generate the kind of offense capable of driving the kind of winning streak the Chiefs ultimately will need to overcome their 1-5 start to this season? The Chiefs go into the weekend leading the AFC and coming in at No. 2 in the NFL with a plus-12 turnover ratio, but is that enough of a dynamic characteristic to sustain their winning streak? When the "expert analysts" characterize the Chiefs schedule as a favorable one, are they underrating the two games Kansas City still has to play vs. Oakland?
DENVER (9-2) at SAN DIEGO (3-8)
Broncos are first in AFC West
Chargers are fourth in AFC West
Skinny: Denver has won 6 of the last 7 games in this series. QB BROCK OSWEILER is 2-0 as starter & has completed 43 of 69 (62.3 pct.) for 520 yards with 3 TDs vs. 1 INT for 93.9 rating. LB VON MILLER has 6 sacks in past 8. Has 8 sacks in 8 career meetings. LB DE MARCUS WARE has 6.5 sacks in past 7 … Last week, QB PHILIP RIVERS passed for 300 yards with 4 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 118.4 rating & became 4th-fastest to reach 40,000 career pass yards (159 games). Last week, TE ANTONIO GATES had 4 catches for 53 yards & 2 TDs. Needs 1 TD to surpass HOFer DON HUTSON for No. 18 all-time.
Impact on the Steelers: The significance here rests solely with the development of the Broncos with Brock Osweiler as their quarterback, especially since Denver is set to visit Heinz Field on Dec. 20. If the Broncos keep winning with Osweiler, would they consider moving on with him instead of going back to Peyton Manning, who reportedly had the cast removed from his injured foot this week. Is it still possible to win a championship on the strength of a defense? Is Denver's defense good enough to take the team to the championship Manning was supposed to deliver? There are still a few weeks before Denver comes to Pittsburgh, so there are a few more weeks to consider all of these elements before getting a chance to see them play out first-hand.