There is so much on the line in Week 17 of the 2018 NFL regular season for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but not all is lost. In fact, playing host to the Cincinnati Bengals for their final game of the regular season presents a lot of interesting opportunities for Pittsburgh. Before we jump ahead to game day, let's look at what was predicted in Week 16 against the New Orleans Saints - how close we were, how far we were from what ended up happening. Then we'll sharpen our focus squarely on that team in the south of Ohio that Steelers fans love to hate.
Week 16 Prediction Recap
- Roethlisberger finishes the game with a better QB rating than Brees: Believe it or not, this came true. One reason was that the Steelers weren't able to be as effective in the run game as the Saints were, which led to Ben Roethlisberger needing to throw more passes and make completions in order to move the offense and get points on the scoreboard. Despite that, Roethlisberger completed 33-of-50 attempts for 380 passing yards and three touchdowns. Drew Brees completed 27-of-39 passes for 326 yards and one touchdown. The final result? Roethlisberger's QB rating of 108.8 was better than Brees' at 103.2.
- The Steelers defense dials up pressure and sacks Brees at least twice: New Orleans' offensive line was banged up, but they still found a way to get the job done for the most part. The Steelers did sack Brees twice for a loss of 13 yards. T.J. Watt and Stephon Tuitt both came away from the game with a sack apiece.
- The Steelers grab at least one interception and grab at least one other turnover: This came partially true. Sean Davis started off the first Steelers defensive series the right way by grabbing an interception in the end zone. Sean Payton sent Taysom Hill in to quarterback the play and he threw a deep ball, attempting to hit Ted Ginn, but Davis was all over it. As for the other turnover predicted? There were so many close calls but Joe Haden did get credited for a forced-fumble in the game, but the Saints were able to fall on the loose ball.
- The Steelers limit Kamara to less than 50 yards rushing and 30 yards in receiving: Alvin Kamara is a special dual-threat player in the Saints offense. No one is disputing that. The Steelers defense did limit Kamara to 23 rushing yards on seven carries. Kamara gained 82 yards receiving, however, on four catches. Kamara was able to score on two of his rushes, controversial situations or not.
- Samuels records a higher reception yards total than any Steelers player not named Brown or Smith-Schuster: Jaylen Samuels had opportunities on the ground, but the Saints defense was truly as stingy as they'd been predicted to be. While Samuels and Ryan Switzer were tied for the third receiving spot behind Brown and Smith-Schuster when they both grabbed three passes, Switzer earned 18 yards to Samuels' 11 yards. Samuels did grab a touchdown catch, however. I'll let you make the call on how close this prediction was.
- The Steelers get the tight ends involved in the red zone with James or McDonald scoring a touchdown: Vance McDonald was targeted four times but came away with one reception, but it was a big one. McDonald grabbed the Roethlisberger toss for a nice 49-yard gain. James wasn't targeted and Xavier Grimble was only targeted once as the Saints played consistent defense across the middle of the field.
- Brown and Smith-Schuster combine for over 200 yards receiving: Once again Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster showed how integral they are to the success of the Steelers offense. Brown caught 14 passes for 185 yards (13.2 yards per catch) and two touchdowns. Smith-Schuster caught 11 passes for 115 yards (10.5 yards per catch). Add that up and they finished the game with - mark it down - 300 yards!
Despite the loss, I am going to claim the Steelers-Saints game a prediction "win".
— TJ Watt (@_TJWatt) December 27, 2018
Week 17 Predictions
After the loss to the Saints, one player that drew heavy ire was Smith-Schuster. Just one weekend removed from "fans" telling placekicker Chris Boswell he should commit suicide (yes, it happened and it caused Boswell to remove his Twitter account), the strange play that resulted in Smith-Schuster catching the ball on top of a Saints defender and not being able to get his body onto the turf before another Saints defender popped the ball loose brought out the ugliest Twitter barrage I may have ever seen from people who claimed to be a part of Steelers Nation. By the way, it wasn't JuJu that lost the game, folks. Did the play end any last-second heroics that might have saved the game for the Steelers? Yes. The Steelers didn't have a lot of luck on their side, but they could have been in a better position than they allowed themselves to be in when that play happened.
I hope to never see another tirade (by people claiming themselves as Steelers fans) as unnecessary, ridiculous, and horrendous towards another Steelers player as I - and the public - witnessed against Smith-Schuster or Boswell. I believe in redemption. Boswell hit every single field goal and PAT attempt against the Saints. This week, I see Smith-Schuster suiting up as the Steelers' 2018 MVP and getting redemption of his own and doing it against the Bengals.
The last time Smith-Schuster faced the Bengals was in Week 6 of the 2018 season and he did this:
It was a bit controversial as well. Everything Smith-Schuster has done this season has drawn attention. He's a weapon, he's talented, he's gifted, athletic, and has shown that he puts his whole heart into being the best teammate and player he can possibly be. He's young - something some people don't understand - but he has also shown himself to be exceptionally reliable. He played through a groin injury last weekend and he'll be ready to put everything on the field this weekend.
- Prediction: Smith-Schuster gets back on the field, ignores the critics, and leads all Steelers receivers plus finds the end zone twice.
Ben Roethlisberger on the Bengals, and staying focused on the task at hand. pic.twitter.com/x7aE8uSZkS
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 27, 2018
Roethlisberger loves playing at Heinz Field. He loves playing the Bengals. In his press conference, he said, "I just care about winning this football game." Who doesn't love to hear that from their veteran quarterback? In Week 6, Roethlisberger threw for 369 yards and a touchdown on 32 completions and went un-sacked.
- Prediction: Roethlisberger puts together another 300-plus passing yard game and no less than three passing touchdowns.
- Prediction 2: Roethlisberger evades the rush from Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap behind his reliable offensive line and spreads the ball (via passing) to a minimum of seven teammates/receivers.
- Prediction 3: The Steelers' offensive line allows one or fewer sacks.
Other Steelers Predictions against Bengals
It looks like James Conner will get an opportunity to play in the final regular-season game after being off for a few weeks due to an ankle injury. One thing that the Steelers would like to do is get back to a more balanced offense. Whether Conner will get the workload at running back or not is up in the air, especially with how Samuels has played in his stead. Still, the duo should have success against a Bengals defense that has been decimated by injury.
- Prediction: Conner, Samuels and the Steelers offense combine for at least 100 yards rushing.
— Steel City Underground (@steelcityundrgr) December 27, 2018
Jeff Driskel isn't Andy Dalton. In some ways, that's a good thing. In other ways, not so much. Driskel has the ability to scramble, which makes him different for Keith Butler to scheme around, but he doesn't have the strongest arm in the NFL. In fact, Driskel often pushes his passes to the center of his receivers' chests and has yet to show an ability to get the ball to the outside shoulder of his receivers in a consistent manner. Driskel also tends to panic and want to use his feet to get out of pressure situations instead of relying on his offensive line to keep the heat off of him. That leads us to two more Steelers predictions...
- Prediction: The Steelers grab at least one interception against the Bengals.
- Prediction 2: Cameron Heyward, Watt, Tuitt, and company overpower the Cincinnati offensive line to earn at least three sacks and a minimum of 5 quarterback hits.
As for the Bengals' run game - it goes through Joe Mixon. With John Ross as the top receiving option, the Steelers can force Cincinnati to become very one-dimensional in this final game. Mixon has a great jump-cut that shakes defenders out of their shoes and the Steelers will need to watch him in situations where Driskel likes to hit him with a flare pass or delayed dump-off in the receiving game.
- Prediction: The Steelers defense holds Ross to less than 100 yards receiving.
- Prediction 2: The Steelers bottle-up Mixon by limiting him to less than 75 rushing yards.
And that, Steelers fans, brings us to the biggest prediction of all --- that the Steelers control their own destiny and defeat the Bengals on home turf. Here We Go!