Preview: Panthers at Steelers
After beginning their winning streak versus one Keystone State representative, the Carolina Panthers bid for their fourth straight victory against another on Thursday when they invade Heinz Field to face the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cam Newton led three fourth-quarter touchdown drives to upend defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia on Oct. 21 before tossing two more scoring strikes in wins over Baltimore and Tampa Bay.
“Listen, we may not necessarily be the best team in the league, but we’re damn sure going to be the best team when we play. That’s all that matters,” Newton said. The 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player has thrown at least two touchdown passes in seven consecutive games, and he’d set a franchise record should he repeat the feat versus Pittsburgh. Steelers running back James Conner also can scribble his name among the franchise’s elite should he rush for 100-plus yards in his fifth consecutive game — joining Pro Football Hall of Famers Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis. The 23-year-old Conner has amassed a staggering 689 yards on 108 touches (88 carries, 20 receptions) over his last four games, including 163 yards (107 rushing, 56 receiving) in Pittsburgh’s 23-16 win over arch-rival Baltimore on Sunday.
TV: 8:20 p.m. ET, FOX, NFL Network. LINE: Steelers -4. O/U: 51.5
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (6-2): The elusive Christian McCaffrey can give Conner a run for his money after totaling 157 scrimmage yards (79 rushing, 78 receiving) in Sunday’s 42-28 win over Tampa Bay. “He is an athletic, dynamic football player who just makes plays for us,” coach Ron Rivera said of the 22-year-old McCaffrey, who also found the end zone twice for the second week in a row after scoring one touchdown in his previous six games. Tight end Greg Olsen made a twisting one-handed catch versus the Buccaneers to reel in a scoring strike for the third straight outing. Star linebacker Luke Kuechly leads the team with 64 tackles in 2018 and had a club-best 14 in the last meeting with Pittsburgh, albeit in a 37-19 setback in September 2014.
ABOUT THE STEELERS (5-2-1): Ben Roethlisberger says he’s not a fan of Thursday games, and he let his listeners know why on his weekly radio show this week. “I’m sure the fans like (Thursday night games); they like seeing football as often as they can,” the 36-year-old Roethlisberger said. “Players? (Sighs) It’s like, ‘Oh here we go, short week, especially after a Baltimore game where you’re physically beat up.'” Roethlisberger has thrown seven touchdowns without an interception in his last two Thursday contests while Antonio Brown has reeled in three scoring strikes in each of his last two such tilts. The 30-year-old Brown has flourished during games on other days as well, collecting eight touchdowns in his last six games overall as well as finding the end zone on two occasions to go along with 10 catches in his last encounter with Carolina.
1. Pittsburgh WR JuJu Smith-Schuster leads the team in receptions (53), receiving yards (672) and 20-plus-yard catches (nine).
2. Rivera said he is optimistic that C Ryan Kalil (ankle) will play versus the Steelers despite failing to practice on Tuesday.
3. Pittsburgh lost its first-ever encounter with Carolina before winning the last five in the series.