HomeFootball DirtCrucial AFC Matchup: Steelers and Colts Battle to Keep Playoff Hopes Alive

Crucial AFC Matchup: Steelers and Colts Battle to Keep Playoff Hopes Alive

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PITTSBURGH (7-6) at INDIANAPOLIS (7-6)

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. EST, NFL Network.

OPENING LINE: Colts by 2 1/2, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

AGAINST THE SPREAD: Steelers 7-6, Colts 8-5.

SERIES RECORD: Steelers lead 26-6.

LAST MEETING: Steelers beat Colts 24-17 on Nov. 28, 2022 in Indianapolis.

LAST WEEK: Steelers lost to Patriots 21-18, Colts lost to Bengals 34-14.

STEELERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (27), RUSH (15), PASS (28), SCORING (27).

STEELERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (21), RUSH (21), PASS (21), SCORING (7).

COLTS OFFENSE: OVERALL (14), RUSH (16), PASS (17), SCORING (8).

COLTS DEFENSE: OVERALL (25), RUSH (26T), PASS (17), SCORING (29).

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Steelers plus-10; Colts plus-1.

STEELERS PLAYER TO WATCH: QB Mitch Trubisky. His first start in place of the injured Kenny Pickett didn’t go as smoothly as planned. He threw an early interception on an ill-advised pass that sailed into triple coverage, setting up a New England touchdown. He also made a questionable decision to throw deep to WR Diontae Johnson on fourth-and-2 at midfield with two minutes left when a first down could have positioned the Steelers for a tying field goal. Coach Mike Tomlin remains committed to Trubisky, but another shaky start could jeopardize Tomlin’s support.

COLTS PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Zack Moss. With Jonathan Taylor still recovering from thumb surgery and his status unclear, the Colts need to provide more offensive balance. He played a key role in Indy’s strong early season ground game when Taylor also was out. But Indy has failed to top the 80-yard mark in four of their past six games and it needs a better performance this week.

KEY MATCHUP: Steelers screen passes vs. Colts pass rush. Indy is tied for third in the league with 42 sacks and is needs five to break the franchise’s single-season record. But last week, Bengals QB Jake Browning took advantage of the Colts’ aggressiveness with three game-changing screen passes. It’s a copy-cat league and Pittsburgh’s low-scoring offense would be wise to challenge the Colts, too.

KEY INJURIES: Steelers OLBs T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith began the week in concussion protocol but were limited participants in practice Tuesday. Watt returned to full action Wednesday and the Steelers said he’s cleared the protocol. Highsmith was still limited Wednesday and might play. QB Kenny Pickett (ankle) will miss his second straight game. … Taylor has missed the past two games and Indy chose not to put him on injured reserve in hopes he’d return in about three weeks. He’s now in that window. Three other Colts starters sat out last week — CB JuJu Brents (quad) RT Braden Smith (knee), LB E.J. Speed (knee). Brents and Speed were both full participants in practice the first two days this week. Taylor and Smith did not practice either day.

SERIES NOTES: Pittsburgh has won eight straight and nine of the past 10 in this series. The Steelers won a franchise-best nine straight over Indy from 1985-2002. … Pittsburgh has won all five playoff games, the first two when the Colts were in Baltimore, and the Steelers have won three AFC titles after postseason wins over the Colts. The most memorable matchups came in the AFC championship game following the 1995 season and in January 2006, the year coach Bill Cowher won his Super Bowl title. … The Colts, Steelers and Browns were the three teams that moved from the NFL to the AFC as part of the 1970 merger. Pittsburgh and Cleveland split their two games this season while the Colts lost to the Browns.

STATS AND STUFF: The Steelers are smarting after back-to-back home losses to Arizona and New England. Pittsburgh became the first NFL team with a winning record to lose consecutive home games against foes who were at least eight games under .500. … The most recent time Pittsburgh lost three in a row came during a four-game skid early in the 2022 season. … Colts QB Gardner Minshew is the fifth backup quarterback the Steelers have faced in seven weeks. They beat Tennessee (Will Levis) and Cincinnati (Browning) while losing to New England (Bailey Zappe) and Cleveland (Dorian Thompson-Robinson). … Pittsburgh is 36-28 all time on Saturdays, 11-19 on the road. … The Steelers’ red-hot running game cooled off significantly against the Patriots. Trubisky was Pittsburgh’s top runner 30 yards. … Special teams ace Miles Killebrew’s three blocked punts since the start of 2022 are the most among active players. He deflected a punt against the Pats last week that didn’t go down as a block because the kick traveled 11 yards. … Watt, Pittsburgh’s career sacks leader, had his third game without a sack this season last week. … The Steelers won their first six one-score decisions this season but are 1-2 in their past three. Those nine one-score decisions are a league high. Indy is tied for third with a 5-2 mark in one-score games. … WR George Pickens had three 100-yard performances in Pittsburgh’s first five games and three TDs in the first six, but he hasn’t topped 100 yards since Oct. 22 and hasn’t scored since Oct. 29. … The Steelers and Colts entered Week 15 sitting in the AFC’s final two playoff spots. Saturday’s winner will stay in the playoff hunt while the loser may struggle to stay close. … Indy is 2-4 on its home turf this season and has lost all four games played at Lucas Oil Stadium in this series. … The Colts are one of only six NFL teams to score 20 or more points in 11 games and are second in non-offensive TDs (five) this season. … WR Michael Pittman Jr. needs five catches for the first 100-catch season of his career, 16 yards for his second 1,000-yard season and eight receptions to break Marvin Harrison’s franchise record for consecutive games with eight or more catches (six). … Minshew has been sacked eight times in the past three weeks and is 2-4 when he throws an interception. … Moss already has established single-season career bests for yards rushing (751) and TD runs (five). … LB Zaire Franklin has retook the league lead in tackles (144). … Indy’s defense ranks first in the NFL in strip-sacks (10), second in fumbles forced (16) and third in tackles for loss (74). It also has forced a turnover in 18 consecutive games, the NFL’s longest active streak. Miami is second at seven. … The Colts have only yielded three points in the final two minutes of the first or second halves this season.

FANTASY TIP: It’s a tough call this week. Typically, in low-scoring contests, fantasy players may be tempted to take a defense. But both have had struggles, and the Steelers would look quite different if Watt or Highsmith — or both — don’t play. The safter choice this week would be the most consistent offensive player on either team, Pittman, who fell 5 yards short of his third straight 100-yard game last week.

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AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL

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