NFL Football 2017-18 Season

AFC North Division Preview

With the days and weeks of summer ticking by, the arrival of a new NFL season continues to approach. Fans still have to wait until September 7th for Kansas City and New England to kick off in Gillette Stadium, but they don’t have to wait much longer for pre-season football starting August 3rd at FanPicks. To get you ready for the new season, here’s the outlook of AFC North teams.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens’ front office vowed to get quarterback Joe Flacco help this offseason. Yet they didn’t sign or draft a top receiver to replace the retiring Steve Smith Sr., and they did little to solidify an offensive line that no longer has starting center Jeremy Zuttah and right tackle Rick Wagner. Through the first two months of free agency, the Ravens’ only offensive addition was veteran running back Danny Woodhead, who is essentially a replacement for versatile fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

One of the lowest-ranked passers in the league last year, Flacco should at least be healthy again. He rushed back from the torn left ACL and MCL he suffered in November 2015 and was on the field for the first day of training camp last July. However, Flacco never looked completely comfortable, and the lack of chemistry with several of his pass catchers was evident throughout the season.

Wideouts Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Chris Moore provide plenty of outside speed, but it’s up to the strong-armed Flacco to rediscover his touch on the deep ball and get in sync with his receivers. Jeremy Maclin, a cap casualty in Kansas City, was signed as a free agent in June. He is coming off an injury-plagued 44-catch season, but if healthy he could take advantage of all the attention drawn by the Ravens’ deep threats.

With injury prone tight end Dennis Pitta released this offseason, the team will look to Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Darren Waller, Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle in hopes of identifying a complementary target who will work the middle of the field and make contested catches.

The Ravens ran the ball the third-fewest times in the NFL last year. Head coach John Harbaugh has promised a greater commitment to the running game. Although, that’s not been offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s trademark as a play caller. Terrance West, Kenneth Dixon(suspended for the first four games) and Danny Woodhead are all capable backs. The Ravens will have to grind it out, because none is a home run threat.

Cincinnati Bengals

Andy Dalton has never been regarded as a top-tier NFL quarterback, but the former second-round pick out of TCU continues to put up quality numbers. In 2016, he threw for 4,206 yards (87 shy of his career high) and completed 64.7 percent of his passes. His best quality might be his durability; in six seasons, he has missed only three starts.

Wide receiver A.J. Green missed out on his sixth straight 1,000-yard season due a hamstring injury that forced him to miss six games. He still caught 66 passes for 964 yards — but had only four touchdowns, the fewest of his career.

The Bengals added to their outstanding group of skill position players in the draft, selecting wide receiver John Ross and controversial but talented running back Joe Mixon. Ross ran the fastest 40-yard dash time ever at the Scouting Combine.

Dalton expects to have a healthy Tyler Eifert, who has dominated in the red zone when healthy but hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Receiver Tyler Boyd enters his second season. He made significant strides in route running and aggressive play in the slot over the final half of 2016. With veteran backs Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill as part of a rotation also, there will be no shortage of weapons.

Cleveland Browns

Robert Griffin III was released after getting hurt and never inspiring much confidence last season. His exit leaves 2016 third-round pick Cody Kessler atop the depth chart headed into a training camp quarterback competition. The spring pecking order was Kessler, Brock Osweiler and then 2017 second-round draft pick DeShone Kizer, but that could change if Kessler falters or Kizer progresses quickly. Osweiler also could end up being the starter; a year after the Texans outbid the Broncos to get him, they gave up a second-round pick to the Browns to take him and the remaining $16 million in guaranteed money on his contract off their hands. Osweiler is just 26 and has made 21 career starts, so he shouldn’t be totally dismissed.

Isaiah Crowell is the lead running back, and he’ll have a chance to build on an impressive 2016. Crowell is a powerful runner who showed improved speed and vision last season. He separated himself from Duke Johnson, who was probably the favorite to become the starting running back last summer. Johnson remains a valuable third-down back and can contribute for a Browns team that needs playmakers.

It’s puzzling to know that the Browns let Terrelle Pryor walk in free agency last March. Pryor went over 1,000 yards receiving last season in his first full season as a wide receiver. His size/speed combo made him a difficult matchup for many cornerbacks. The Browns signed veteran Kenny Britt to fill Pryor’s spot in the depth chart. More than anything, though, the receivers and the offense as a whole need 2016 first-round pick Corey Coleman to take a significant leap. Coleman had one big game as a rookie and showed he could become a deep threat, but missing time both in training camp and during the season slowed his overall development. The Browns hope this season that he can be a downfield threat and that Britt can help move the chains. First-round tight end David Njoku should continue to progress and eventually become top passing-game options.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers have arguably the best running back in football with Le’Veon Bell, the best wide receiver with Antonio Brown, plenty of supplementary playmakers and a solid offensive line, but they’ll only go as far as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is able to carry them. The past two years have been tough on the 35-year-old veteran, who missed stretches of 2015 and 2016 with various injuries. Though most assumed he’d be back for his 14th season, Roethlisberger waited until early April to make it official. Clearly, he’s on the back end of a Hall of Fame career, but he’s still one of the best quarterbacks in the league, completely healthy or not. The Steelers are 28–13 with Roethlisberger under center over the past three seasons — a stretch that has seen him post three of his four highest passing yards-per-game averages.

Roethlisberger is the driving force behind an offense that should be nothing short of a top-five unit in 2017. A player of Bell’s caliber is poised for another big season after averaging more than 100 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards in 2016, a suspension-shortened campaign that was so dazzling that some dubbed him an MVP candidate. Entering his fifth season, Bell is in the heart of his prime and will have no shortage of motivation while playing on the franchise tag. His security blanket of the past two seasons, veteran DeAngelo Williams, is no longer with the Steelers, but rookie James Conner is expected to provide short-yardage thump that should nicely complement Bell’s patient running style.

The Steelers did just fine through the air last season without Martavis Bryant, who was suspended from start to finish. Now with Bryant back in the fold, the Steelers present one of the league’s most dangerous one-two punches at wide receiver. Bryant’s blazing speed and ability to take the top off the defense not only makes him a dangerous deep threat, but also opens up the field for Brown, who has been the constant target of double-teams and bracket coverage over the past few seasons. And if Bryant can’t stay on the straight and narrow, the Steelers are prepared. On top of returning receivers Eli Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey, Pittsburgh added the well-traveled Justin Hunter in free agency and used a second-round pick on USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster, who could make an immediate impact in the slot.

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AFC North biggest needs in the 2017 NFL Draft

While the Steelers remain the class of the division, even they have holes to fill

The Pittsburgh Steelers were within one game of playing for the Lombardi Trophy last season. As for the rest of the AFC North, there appears to be a lot of work to do and holes to fill during the NFL draft on April 27th 2017.

Only one other division in the NFL had three of its four teams finish .500 or below. Cleveland continued its perpetual role as the NFL’s doormat, while Cincinnati and Baltimore appear mired in mediocrity. A talent-rich draft at most positions gives hope to a division of flawed teams heading into the 2017 campaign.

 Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens finished 8-8 and were decimated by injuries and the lack of explosive weapons on offense. They had a hard time generating a pass rush, which seems strange given Baltimore’s history of fielding menacing defenses. This is a club that simply lacks playmakers and depth on both sides of the ball. John Harbaugh’s squad needs a guy who can wreak havoc when it comes to pressuring the pocket. The lack of such a presence puts extra pressure on his secondary, which also needs help. If the Ravens can’t land an elite pass rusher with their first pick, they need to seriously consider taking a corner who they feel can start immediately. If they can’t find either, they may want to reach for a guy who could become the long-term answer at center.

First-round pick: No. 16 overall

Potential Picks: If somehow Tennessee’s Derek Barnett falls to them, the Ravens need to pull the trigger. Otherwise, they’ll probably be deciding between Michigan’s Taco Charlton and Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey. There is a possibility they could reach for Ohio State center Pat Elflein. That would be a smart choice, yet widely unpopular amongst the Raven faithful.

 Cincinnati Bengals

Injuries to A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert made it tough for the Bengal offense to find its way all season. Player suspensions didn’t help matters either. The Bengals missed the playoffs for the first time since Andy Dalton has been under center, and it’s seems like their window as contenders is closing. They need help on defense, especially at defensive end and safety. Marvin Lewis’ defenses traditionally have an elite playmaker roaming the secondary who changes the way opponents attack. On the other side of the ball, a solid No. 2 receiver option to Green would help him and Dalton, thus helping the Bengal offense as a whole.

First-round pick: No. 9 overall

Potential picks: LSU safety Jamal Adams would be a perfect fit, as he has many of the same characteristics from both a performance and leadership standpoint as former Raven great Ed Reed. If he’s gone before the Bengals pick, one of the top two receivers still on the board — Clemson’s Mike Williams and Western Michigan’s Corey Davis — would be solid choices and make Cincinnati’s offense downright scary when paired with Green.

 Cleveland Browns

Unless you don’t watch any football whatsoever, you know the story with the Browns. They continue to be a punchline in American sport. They’ve still never landed a franchise quarterback in the history of the expansion edition of the franchise, and that has been the common denominator of their issues. They had some young talent display flashes of brilliance in 2016, but for the most part, this is a team that does not look ready to compete anytime in the next 2-3 years. Quarterback and secondary are the biggest areas of need for Cleveland, but at this point, the Browns need to head into the draft and target the best players available. They have a need for a solid pass rusher as well.

First-round picks: No. 1 and No. 12 overall

Potential picks: The acquisition of Brock Osweiler will likely impact their early draft decisions, as there does not appear to be a sure-fire franchise quarterback available in this draft. As a result, you’ll see Cleveland take Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett with the first overall pick. At pick No. 12, you could see them go after Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers. If they do choose to take a flyer on a quarterback with the 12th pick, it’ll probably be Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.

 Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh’s up-and-down season ended with a defeat in the AFC Championship Game to the Patriots. Though the offense was able to score with anyone in the league, it seemed to sputter during key moments. The Steelers also had difficulty time slowing down opposing offenses at times — especially against the pass. The Steelers need a good playmaker to be the focal point and eventual leader of their defense. Depth in the secondary is a concern, but linebacker appears to be the biggest need. Truth be told, Pittsburgh probably needs to target the top defensive player available with its first-round pick.

First-round pick: No. 30 overall

Potential picks: Sitting at the end of the first round, the Steelers will just need to wait and see who is left on the board. Lucky for them, this is a deep draft defensively. Ohio State inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan makes a lot of sense. You could also see Pittsburgh go after UCLA cornerback Fabian Moreau or Colorado corner Chidobe Awuzie.

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NFL Playoffs AFC Championship Game Preview

Pittsburgh Steelers vs New England Patriots

The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots are in familiar territory as they prepare to clash in Sunday night’s AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. The winner of the matchup will establish an NFL record by becoming the first team to advance to the Super Bowl for the ninth time (Enter Contest).

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a pair of Super Bowl rings but knows the challenge presented by the Patriots. They’ve beaten Pittsburgh in the AFC title game after both the 2001 and 2004 regular seasons on their way to championships. New England, the first team since the 1970 merger to advance to six consecutive conference championship games, won at Pittsburgh 27-16 in Week 7. It was a game Roethlisberger missed due to injury. But things look to be much different this time around. The Steelers’ are on a roll.  They are on a nine-game winning streak.

ABOUT THE STEELERS (13-5)

Roethlisberger owns a 13-6 postseason record heading into his fifth AFC title game. He has one of the league’s top receivers at his disposal. Pittsburgh is also centering its offense around running back Le’Veon Bell, who has set franchise playoff records in back-to-back games by rushing for 167 yards against Miami and 170 at Kansas City. Bell has rushed for at least 118 yards in seven of his last eight contests but was limited to 81 on 21 carries by New England while making 10 catches for 68 yards. Antonio Brown has racked up 481 receptions over the last four seasons, including seven for 106 yards in Week 7, while going over 100 yards in both postseason wins. The defense has shown the most improvement for the Steelers. They have permitted an average of 16.6 points and registered 31 sacks during their winning streak.

ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (15-2)

After throwing for 28 touchdowns against only two interceptions, Tom Brady matched the latter total by getting picked off twice during a pedestrian performance in last week’s 34-16 victory over Houston. Brady, though, routinely has carved up Pittsburgh’s defense, throwing for 19 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the last six matchups, and for his career has 26 scoring passes versus three picks while posting a 9-2 record against the Steelers. Running back LeGarrette Blount rushed for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Week 7 meeting, but Dion Lewis did the bulk of the damage against Houston with three TDs. It includes one on a 98-yard kickoff return. The Patriots’ defense led the league by surrendering 15.6 points during the regular season. New England is 16-3 at home in the playoffs since 2001.

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NFL Playoffs Conference Championships

A road team was finally victorious in the post-season, but that doesn’t mean the results of last week’s divisional round have taken away any of the appeal to either of the NFL playoffs conference championships matchups (Enter contest). In fact, the outcomes have left us with a pair of regular-season rematches featuring the league’s two hottest teams taking on its two most dominant teams in the regular season for the right to play in Super Bowl LI.

NFC Championship

The NFC Championship Game features Green Bay, winners of eight in a row, against Atlanta. The Packers are coming off of a thrilling, last-second 34-31 win in Dallas over the top-seeded Cowboys, while the Falcons are fresh off of a 36-20 dismantling of the Seahawks. Aaron Rodgers (21 TDs, 1 INT over last eight games) has been playing at an MVP level the past two months, but the award could end up going to Matt Ryan. The first-team All-Pro threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s win over Seattle, and he hasn’t been intercepted since early December.

AFC Championship

New England had little trouble dispatching of Houston 34-16 last week and Sunday will be Tom Brady’s 11th conference championship game, the most of any player in NFL history. To make it to a record-breaking seventh Super Bowl, Brady and the Patriots will need to beat a red-hot Pittsburgh team that has already won in a hostile environment. The Steelers made it nine wins in a row after outlasting Kansas City 18-16 in Arrowhead Stadium last week. Le’Veon Bell has been a beast (NFL-record 337 rushing yards in first two career playoff games) thus far, but Pittsburgh will need Ben Roethlisberger (8:9 TD-to-INT ratio since Week 13) to play better than he has lately.

Overview

These teams already have some familiarity with each other, as Atlanta beat Green Bay 33-32 in Week 8 at home on a late touchdown pass from Ryan to Mohamed Sanu. Ryan and Rodgers combined for 534 passing yards and seven scores in the high-scoring affair. New England defeated Pittsburgh 27-16 at Heinz Field in Week 7, behind a 127 rushing yards and two touchdowns from LeGarrette Blount. However, Roethlisberger didn’t play because of a knee injury and the Patriots’ leading receiver that day was Rob Gronkowski, who went on injured reserve (back) in December.

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NFL Playoffs Divisional Round Recap

There was no shortage of surprising wins and dramatic wins during the 2017 NFL Playoffs Divisional Round. Before moving forward to next week Conference Finals (Enter contest), here’s what happen this weekend.

Seattle Seahawks vs Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan may be 0-4 in the playoffs against all other teams, but he is 2-0 versus the Seattle Seahawks. Ryan, building off a spectacular regular season, threw for 334 yards and three touchdowns and the Falcons lived up to their billing as the highest-scoring team in the NFL with a 36-20 victory Saturday at the Georgia Dome.

Houston Texans vs New England Patriots

It wasn’t an artistic success, but it was enough for the New England Patriots to return to the AFC title game for a record sixth straight time. Bill Belichick’s team moved on with a 34-16 victory over the Houston Texans in the divisional playoff game on Saturday night.

Green Bay Packers vs Dallas Cowboys

The score was tied with 35 seconds remaining to this game and the ball at the hands of Aaron Rodgers. The rest, as they say, was history. The NFL’s hottest quarterback put the Green Bay Packers in position to advance to the NFC Championship and kicker Mason Crosby did the rest, booting a 51-yard field goal at the final gun to beat the Dallas Cowboys 34-31 Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Kansas City Chiefs

It’s not the type of performance that wins many games in the NFL playoffs. Going for 60 minutes without a touchdown generally leads to a sorrowful end to postseason hopes. At least it did until Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium. The Pittsburgh Steelers did not score a touchdown, yet won the AFC divisional round game against the Kansas City Chiefs 18-16.

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NFL Divisional Playoff Preview

The NFL Divisional Playoff match-ups are set and every game will be a rematch from the regular season.

NFC Matchups

In the NFC, it’s the Packers visiting the Cowboys, and the Seahawks on the road to face the Falcons. The often overlooked Falcons have quietly gone about their business this season and clinched the No. 2 seed in the NFC.  They differ from previous years in that it seems they may finally have a reliable defence to go along with their potent offence.  If the Falcons want to make others take note and earn respect they will have to get past the Seahawks. Seattle coming off a less than stellar regular season did manage to win the NFC West with relatively easily by beating the Lions 26-6 in the NFC Wild Card Game.  The big question here is whether Russell Wilson can find consistency in his game, and can the Seahawks defence get past its injury issues and stop the high flying Falcons offense?

The Green Bay Packers are the hottest team in the NFL right now after winning their seventh consecutive game Sunday, defeating the New York Giants 38-13 in the Wild Card.  After a slow start, the Packers offence got going in the second half after ending the first half on a hail mary touchdown from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb.  The Packers hope to continue their hot play and upset the top-seeded Cowboys next Sunday.  The Cowboys are favorites, but they are going to have to depend on rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to beat the Packers and advance to the NFC Championship game.

AFC Matchups

In the AFC, it’s the Texans looking to play the roll of spoiler as they travel to Gillette Stadium to face the favored Patriots. The Patriots begin their run toward a fifth Super Bowl title with a home game Saturday night.  Not many seems to think the Texans can even keep this game close, let alone come up with the upset. After all, lets not forget that the Patriots blasted the Texans 27-0 earlier this year with their third string QB.  Now with a healthy, rested and focused Brady back under center it is hard to fathom anything but a lop sided Patriots win.

Many believe the Steelers may be the most dangerous team in the postseason, and they will get a chance to prove it Sunday at Arrowhead when they face the Chiefs.  Earlier this year the Steelers punished the Chiefs 43-14.  Will the Steelers defenseThe  continue to shine, and will big Ben’s ankle be ready for the Chiefs pass rush?

Which teams will prevail to play in the Conference Championships on January 22nd?  Make sure to jump in on all the NFL Divisional Playoff action at Fanpicks.com where we always offer you multiple ways to win.

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NFL Wild Card Weekend

Miami Dolphins vs Pittsburgh Steelers Preview

The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the playoffs on a seven-game winning streak. They tied for the most postseason victories (34) in league history. They are not focused on their string of successes though. Instead, the Steelers will be looking to atone for one of their worst performances of the season when they host the Miami Dolphins on Sunday in an AFC wild card weekend matchup (Enter contest).

Pittsburgh secured the AFC North title and the No. 3 seed in the conference with its strong finishing run, which partly was necessitated by a four-game losing streak that started with a 30-15 drubbing in Miami on October 15. The Steelers will be at home in the rematch and temperatures are expected to peak at a frosty 20 degrees on Sunday.

The Dolphins won nine of 10 prior to a loss to New England in the regular-season finale to nail down their first postseason berth since 2008, but they lost starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill to injury in Week 14 and will be forced to go with veteran Matt Moore versus Pittsburgh. Moore will be making his first career postseason start.

ABOUT THE DOLPHINS (10-6)

No matter who is under center, Miami’s game plan figures to follow the blueprint of the mid-October matchup. Running back Jay Ajayi tore through Pittsburgh’s defense for 204 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. It was the first of three 200-yard rushing performances this season by Ajayi. Quarterback Matt Moore, who had just 30 pass attempts in his previous four seasons with the Dolphins, put up solid numbers in his three starts (674 yards, eight TDs, three interceptions). He has a trio of talented wide receivers in Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills. Miami’s defense ranked 30th against the run (140.4 yards per game). They did limit the Steelers rushers to 53 yards in the first matchup.

ABOUT THE STEELERS (11-5)

Le’Veon Bell ran a season-low 10 times against Miami, but he recorded at least 20 carries in each of his last six games before sitting out Week 17. He was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for December/January after rushing for 569 yards and four touchdowns while catching 18 passes in four games. Bell is one of two elite weapons for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The quarteback has two Super Bowl championships on his resume. He also has one of the league’s top wideouts in Antonio Brown. Brown is the conference leader with 12 touchdown receptions. He surpassed 100 catches for the fourth straight season and totaled 481 receptions during that time. It’s the highest reception total in any four-year span in NFL history. Roethlisberger is 11-6 in the playoffs, tied for the seventh-best all-time winning percentage. Pittsburgh’s defense led the league with 21 sacks from Weeks 11-16.

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Pittsburgh Steelers vs Indianapolis Colts Preview

Back-to-back wins have vaulted the Indianapolis Colts back into the playoff picture, but they are nearly certain to be without Andrew Luck when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night (Enter Contest). Luck, who is having another strong campaign as he ranks fourth in the NFL with 2,827 yards passing with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions, entered concussion protocol after guiding Indianapolis past Tennessee last week. He will not be available for Chuck Pagano on Thursday.

Scott Tolzien, who has played in six games in his six-year career, will get the start. Tolzien is 56-of-91 for 721 yards with a touchdown and five interceptions in the NFL. Pittsburgh not only snapped its four-game losing streak with a win over lowly Cleveland last time out, but it jumped into a first-place tie in the AFC North in the process. Le’Veon Bell rushed for 146 yards and had a score as the Steelers sent the Browns to their 11th straight loss on Sunday.

ABOUT THE STEELERS (5-5)

Bell has been an all-purpose monster since returning from a three-game suspension to start the season. Sunday marked the first time since Week 4 that he gained over 100 yards on the ground for the Steelers, who rank 23rd in rushing offense. Bell’s success took some of the burden off Ben Roethlisberger, who was held without a touchdown pass. Roethlisberger threw four TD passes as Pittsburgh hammered Indianapolis 45-10 last season. It was another game in which the Colts played without Luck. The Steelers, who have won the last two matchups by a combined 45 points, cautioned his counterpart not to play.

Wide receiver Antonio Brown leads the NFL with 77 receptions and is fourth with 907 yards. Pittsburgh has injury concerns of its own, especially at wide receiver as Sammie Coates is dealing with three broken fingers, Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot) is out and Marcus Wheaton (shoulder) has landed on injured reserve.

ABOUT THE COLTS (5-5)

Clearing concussion protocol is a huge hurdle for Luck in the short week, and the fact that the Colts don’t play again until December 5 against the New York Jets leaves it likely they’ll let both Luck and safety Clayton Geathers use the extra time to get well. Geathers also was placed in concussion protocol after Sunday’s game and cornerback Vontae Davis is questionable with an ankle injury, leaving the Colts’ passing defense in an ominous situation against Roethlisberger, who has thrown 10 touchdown passes in his last two games against Indianapolis. The Colts may try to lean more on a ground game led by Frank Gore (642 yards, four touchdowns), but they rank 25th in the league in rushing.

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Patriots (5-1) vs Steelers (4-2)

What was shaping up as one of the marquee matchups of the season lost some of its luster when Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a torn meniscus last weekend. With Roethlisberger sidelined after undergoing surgery, the Steelers will host the New England Patriots in a matchup of division leaders on Sunday (Enter Contests).

The Patriots weathered a four-game suspension to quarterback Tom Brady, so they realize Pittsburgh still presents an imposing obstacle. They will be playing playing their third consecutive AFC North opponent, having dispatched Cincinnati and Cleveland by a combined 68-30 over the past two weeks. Likewise, the Steelers are facing a third straight team from the AFC East, following a rout of the New York Jets with a 30-15 loss at Miami last weekend.

ABOUT THE PATRIOTS

Sitting out the first month had no apparent negative effect on Brady, who has thrown for 782 yards with six touchdowns and zero interceptions while completing 76 percent of his passes in the first two games. He’s 6-2 against Pittsburgh with 22 scoring passes and three interceptions. Tight end Rob Gronkowski, hobbled by a hamstring injury that forced him to sit out two games, has come alive with a pair of 100-yard games since the return of Brady. He collected seven receptions for a career-high 162 yards and a touchdown in last week’s 35-17 win over Cincinnati. New England’s linebacker corps is riddled with injuries, although Dont’a Hightower was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

ABOUT THE STEELERS

Backup quarterback Landry Jones, who appeared in seven games last season and struggled in a start at Kansas City, will be surrounded by plenty of talent. Among them are star wideout Antonio Brown and do-everything running back Le’Veon Bell. Brown tied for the league lead with 136 receptions last season and has 376 catches from 2013-15, but he has failed to find the end zone in 11 games without Roethlisberger. He possess a touchdown catch in all three career meetings against New England. Bell is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and has 20 receptions in his three games since returning from suspension and will likely carry a heavy workload. Pittsburgh’s defense ranks 30th against the pass (293.7 yards per game). The Steelers have won seven in a row at home.

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