SUNDAY AFTERNOON** INDIANAPOLIS (6-6) at JACKSONVILLE (4-6)
Colts are tied-for-first in AFC South
Jaguars are third in AFC South
Skinny: The Colts have won six in a row in this series, including a 16-13 victory in overtime on Oct. 4. QB MATT HASSELBECK is 4-1 as starter with Colts & has passed for 1,192 yards with 8 TDs vs. 4 INTs. Has won 3 of past 4 starts vs. Jax & passed for 1,136 yards with 8 TDs vs. 3 INTs for 94.1 rating … QB BLAKE BORTLES has club record 27 TD passes & needs 3 to become 1st Jaguars QB with 30 in a season. In past 8, has passed for 2,278 yards with 21 TDs vs. 10 INTs.
Impact on the Steelers: It would figure that a win by Indianapolis essentially would eliminate the Jaguars, and should the Colts end up winning the AFC South there wouldn't appear to be any reason to be afraid of having to go there for a Wild Card Round Game, especially based on what happened at Heinz Field last Sunday. Andrew Luck likely would be back as the Colts' starting quarterback, but there isn't much he could do to strengthen that Indianapolis defense Ben Roethlisberger has shredded in back-to-back seasons.
SAN DIEGO (3-9) at KANSAS CITY (7-5)
Chargers are fourth in AFC West
Chiefs are second in AFC West
Skinny: The Chargers have won four of the last seven games in this series, but Chiefs Coach Andy Reid is 5-3 all-time vs. San Diego. QB PHILIP RIVERS (40,368) needs 184 pass yards to eclipse HOFer JOE MONTANA (40,551) for No. 15 all-time. Ranks 2nd in NFL with 3,713 pass yards & needs 287 to become 4th player in NFL history with 7 4,000-yard seasons … Chiefs aim for 7th consecutive win. QB ALEX SMITH has attempted 305 consecutive passes without an INT, 3rd-longest streak in NFL history. In past 21, LB JUSTIN HOUSTON has 22.5 sacks, 4 FF & 2 INTs.
Impact on the Steelers: From now until the end of this regular season, Steelers Nation's two favorite teams are the Steelers and whomever is playing the Chiefs. The idea that this Kansas City team could win 10 games in a row still seems like a long-shot, even when it's considered the final four opponents on the schedule – San Diego, at Baltimore, Cleveland, and Oakland – are a combined 14-34 right now. The Chiefs excel in not turning the ball over, where their plus-13 turnover ratio is second in the NFL to undefeated Carolina, and their 10 turnovers (three interceptions plus seven lost fumbles) is second in the NFL to Green Bay's nine total turnovers. Kansas City is making the case that it's still possible to play not-to-lose in the contemporary NFL. Go Chargers, Ravens, Browns, and Raiders.
TENNESSEE (3-9) at NEW YORK JETS (7-5)**
Titans are fourth in AFC South
Jets are second in AFC East
Skinny: Last week, WR BRANDON MARSHALL had 12 catches for 131 yards with TD & became 1st player in NFL history to have 1,000-yard receiving season with 4 different teams. Has 100 receiving yards or TD in 11 of past 12. Aims for 6th in row with TD … Last week, QB MARCUS MARIOTA became 1st player in NFL history with 250 pass yards (268), 3 TD passes (3) & 100 rush yards (112) in same game. Leads NFL rookies in rating (95.1) & TD passes (19). Has 2 TDs in 6 of 10 career games. 1st rookie in history to have 2 games with 4 TDs & 0 INTs. Has 4 games with 3 TD passes, tied for most ever by rookie (PEYTON MANNING, 4 in 1998).
Impact on the Steelers: In addition to the Steelers and Chiefs, the Jets are the other non-division-leading AFC team with as many as seven wins, but their schedule is nowhere near as easy as Kansas City's. The Jets have to go to Dallas, where the Cowboys remain in the thick of the race for a division title and the home playoff game that comes with that, and the Jets also host the Patriots, who have to keep winning in order to secure a bye in the first round of the playoffs. New England never has won a Super Bowl in a postseason in which it didn't earn a bye, and so the Jets can figure on having Bill Belichick's and Tom Brady's full attention on Dec. 27.
BUFFALO (6-6) at PHILADELPHIA (5-7)
Bills are third in AFC East
Eagles are tied-for-first in NFC East
Skinny: The Bills begin a three-game swing through the NFC East starting this weekend. After visiting the Eagles, Buffalo plays at Washington on Dec. 20, and then hosts Dallas on Dec. 27. RB LE SEAN MC COY spent 6 seasons with Eagles & is club's all-time leading rusher (6,792 yards), and there is lingering bitterness with Eagles Coach Chip Kelly about being traded … The Eagles are coming off an impressive win over the Patriots in Foxborough, but the reported incident of big-money tailback DeMarco Murray complaining about his carries to owner Jeffrey Lurie has stolen the spotlight.
Impact on the Steelers: Bottom line, the NFC teams have to start winning these inter-conference games, because while the Steelers should have no fear about playing the Bills anywhere at anytime, getting involved with them in a multiple-team tiebreaker for a playoff spot might not be as sure a thing.
OAKLAND (5-7) at DENVER (10-2)**
Raiders are third in AFC West
Broncos are first in AFC West
Skinny: The Broncos are riding an eight-game winning streak in this annual home-and-home series, and the Raiders have lost four of their last five after a 4-3 start … QB DEREK CARR (6) needs 1 more 300-yard passing game to join RICH GANNON (10 in 2002) as only Raiders with 7 in season. KHALIL MACK has 9 sacks in past 10, incl. 2 last week … QB BROCK OSWEILER is 2-0 as starter & has completed 59 of 95 (62.1 pct.) for 686 yards with 4 TDs vs. 2 INTs for 89.2 rating…Aims to become 1st QB to win 1st 4 starts with Den since JAKE PLUMMER (4 in 2003). LB VON MILLER leads team with 9 sacks & needs 1 to join SIMON FLETCHER (5) as only Broncos with 4 10-sack seasons.
Impact on the Steelers: Forget about this game in terms of what the outcome could mean to the Steelers in the postseason, and focus on it in terms of what the outcome could mean to a Steelers team that will be hosting the Broncos on Dec. 20. In that sense, it likely would be best for the Broncos to win this game and get to 11-2, because that might dull their desperation to leave Heinz Field with a victory. A knock-down, physical war of attrition between the Raiders and Broncos would be OK, too.
NEW ENGLAND (10-2) at HOUSTON (6-6)
Patriots are first in AFC East
Texans are tied-for-first in AFC South
Skinny: The Texans are 4-1 in their last five games, and this matchup pits Houston Coach Bill O'Brien against Bill Belichick, the man who gave him his start as an NFL coach … In past 17, J.J. WATT has 24.5 sacks, 3 FF, FR, safety, 7 PDs & TD catch. Since 2011, leads NFL with 70.5 sacks. LB WHITNEY MERCILUS has 6.5 sacks in past 7 … Patriots aim to clinch 7th consecutive AFC East title, which would tie 1973-79 Rams for longest streak in history. TE ROB GRONKOWSKI has 15 TDs in past 17 overall (incl. playoffs). Since 2010, Gronkowski leads the NFL with 63 TD rec.
Impact on the Steelers: It seems inconceivable at this point that the AFC South will produce one of the two Wild Card teams, and even more inconceivable that the Steelers could work their way into a spot where they could have any chance of competing for the same kinds of postseason scheduling perks as the Patriots. In terms of the general overall strength of the AFC playoff teams, having the Patriots closer to slumping than streaking and just having the Texans qualifying for the pool would seem to be advantageous for the Steelers. Based on that, go Texans.