Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 16: Key Matchup Impacts Playoffs

The Steelers are trying to snap a three-game losing streak and clinch the AFC North title. The Colts are hoping to pull ahead in the AFC South and secure a playoff spot.
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The thought of the Indianapolis Colts visiting Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field doesn’t evoke positive thoughts for the visitors.

Fact is, the Steelers have owned the Colts throughout the series 24-6, including six straight and three of those at Heinz Field. The Colts lost 26-24 at Pittsburgh last year, when Adam Vinatieri missed a last-minute field goal attempt.

But there’s reason to believe this game could deviate from the trend. The Colts (10-4) have won five of six to improve to the sixth AFC playoff spot. The Steelers (11-3) have lost three in a row with a shaky offense as well as a defense missing key regulars.

That said, the Steelers will have running back James Conner and inside linebacker Vince Williams back in the fold after they missed multiple games. And the Colts will be without both of their starting offensive tackles - Anthony Castonzo was ruled out on Saturday with ankle/knee injuries and Braden Smith was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday. Three other reserves and an assistant coach are also on the list. Don't be surprised if Colts two-time All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson shifts to left tackle. He handled the position well for a brief stint in a Week 14 win at Las Vegas.

The Steelers can clinch the AFC North Division title with a win. The Colts need the Tennessee Titans (10-4) to lose at Green Bay to pull ahead in the AFC South Division. The Titans have the division win percentage tiebreaker.

Suffice to say, there’s a lot riding on this game.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) tries to elude Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard (53) in a 2019 game at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field.

Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster tries to avoid Colts linebacker Darius Leonard.

Here’s all you need to know about Colts-Steelers.

Broadcast Information

— Sunday, Dec. 27, at 1 p.m. (EDT).

— Heinz Field, Pittsburgh.

— TV: CBS-4, Jim Nantz (play-by-play), Tony Romo (color), Tracy Wolfson (sideline).

— Radio: WFNI 1070-AM ESPN “The Fan,” WLHK 97.1 HANK-FM, Matt Taylor (play-by-play), Rick Venturi (color), Larra Overton (sideline), Bill Brooks (pregame/postgame analyst); Sports USA, John Ahlers (play-by-play), Brandon Noble (color).

All-Time Series

— Steelers lead, 24-6 (5-0 in playoffs). Steelers have won six in a row.

— Last meeting, Week 9, 2019. Steelers won, 26-24.

Coaches

Colts: head coach Frank Reich; offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni; defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, special teams Bubba Ventrone.

Steelers: head coach Mike Tomlin; offensive coordinator Mike Fichtner; defensive coordinator Keith Butler; special teams Danny Smith.

Last Week

Colts won vs. Houston Texans, 27-20.

Steelers lost at Cincinnati Bengals, 27-17.

Injury Reports

Colts

— OUT: LT Anthony Castonzo (ankle/knee); WR Marcus Johnson (quad); RT Braden Smith (reserve/COVID-19).

— QUESTIONABLE: DE Al-Quadin Muhammad (ankle).

Steelers

— OUT: LB Ulysees Gilbert III (ankle).

— QUESTIONABLE: LB Olasunkanmi Adeniyi (shoulder); S Marcus Allen (stinger); K Chris Boswell (groin); RB Anthony McFarland (groin).

Storylines/Things to Watch

Turnovers Magnified: The Colts are tied for the NFL lead in turnover ratio at +12 and the Steelers are tied for fourth at +8. In cold weather, ball security is often an issue for even the best teams. Colts running backs have lost only one fumble this season. Both quarterbacks are protected well, which make strip sacks as well as interceptions hard to come by. The team that can create turnovers will gain a considerable advantage.

Pass Protection/Pass Rush: The Steelers are the NFL’s best in getting sacks and not allowing them. The Colts are second in fewest sacks allowed, but middle-of-the-pack in sacks with an inconsistent pass rush. Quarterback Philip Rivers gets rid of the ball quickly and has been quite effective with his reads and quick decisions in the second half of the season, in which the Colts have won five of six games. He's going to need to be quicker with Castonzo and Smith missing at the tackle positions. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a big man to bring down and will take hits to by pass-catchers time to get open. The Colts have struggled mightily to get enough pressure on him in recent years.

Ride Colts Workhorse: If there’s any weakness in the Steelers’ second-ranked defense, it’s in run defense, but the Black & Gold are still solid with a No. 8 ranking. The Colts have thrived on the ground in the past four games as rookie running back Jonathan Taylor has rushed for 414 yards on 68 carries (6.1 ypc) with three TDs. Moving the chains with Taylor monopolizes time of possession and can wear down that Steelers defense. It also keeps the Roethlisberger-led Steelers offense off the field.

Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt leads the NFL with 13 sacks entering Sunday's home game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt leads the NFL with 13 sacks.

Intriguing Matchups

Colts RT Chaz Green vs. Steelers LOLB T.J. Watt: The younger brother of J.J. Watt leads the NFL with 13 sacks and is a candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. This was supposed to be an interesting matchup against right tackle Braden Smith, but he was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday. That means the journeyman Green has to line up against Watt, and there’s no doubt the Colts will provide blocking help, preferably with a tight end. If Green struggles, recent roster-addition Will Holden could be pressed into use.

Colts DT DeForest Buckner vs. Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey: Expect Buckner to be fired up after getting snubbed for the Pro Bowl despite having better numbers than the three players selected for the AFC squad. While he typically takes on offensive guards, the Steelers won’t hesitate to have Pouncey assist in double-team blocks. Buckner leads the Colts with 24 quarterback hits and his 7.5 sacks tie for the team lead. There’s nobody better for him to make a statement against than Pouncey, who was just named to his ninth Pro Bowl.

Colts CB Xavier Rhodes vs. Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster: The Steelers have several capable pass-catchers but Smith-Schuster is typically the first option and the most trustworthy. Diontae Johnson has had issues with drops and rookie Chase Claypool hasn’t been targeted with any consistency in recent games. Smith-Schuster has seven TD receptions for the third time in his four-year career. Whether it’s a score or a first down, Ben Roethlisberger wants to turn to his go-to guy. Smith-Schuster had three catches for 15 yards against the Bengals last week, his second-lowest output of the year. Rhodes has had a solid bounce-back season, but Smith-Schuster has the kind of speed and ability to get open that will be a challenge for the cover guy.

Projected Weather

Partly cloudy skies, high 42F, winds S at 5-10 mph.

Referee Assignment

— Head referee: Alex Kemp (third year as referee, started as side judge in 2014). Click here to see all referee assignments for Week 16.

Betting Lines

— Favorite: Colts (-1.5).

— Over/Under: 44.5.

2020 Season Leaders

Colts

— Passing: QB Philip Rivers (3,735 yards).

— Rushing: RB Jonathan Taylor (842 yards).

— Receiving: WR T.Y. Hilton (675 yards).

— Touchdowns: Taylor (8).

— Tackles: LB Darius Leonard (103).

— Sacks: DE Denico Autry, DT DeForest Buckner, DE Justin Houston (7.5).

— Interceptions: CB Kenny Moore II (4).

Steelers

— Passing: QB Ben Roethlisberger (3,462 yards).

— Rushing: RB James Conner (663 yards).

— Receiving: WR Diontae Johnson (753 yards).

— Touchdowns: WR Chase Claypool (10).

— Tackles: S Minkah Fitzpatrick (63).

— Sacks: OLB T.J. Watt (13).

— Interceptions: Fitzpatrick (4).

Comparing 2020 Stats

Colts

— Total offense: 12th (374.8 YPG).

— Scoring: 8th (28.5 PPG).

— Passing offense: 9th (260.8 YPG).

— Sacks allowed: 2nd (16).

— Rushing offense: 15th (114 YPG).

— Third-down offense: 23rd (40.23%).

— Red-zone offense: 20th (58.49%).

— Total defense: 7th (334.1 YPG).

— Scoring defense: T11th (22.9 PPG).

— Passing defense: 17th (236 YPG).

— Sacks: T15th (33).

— Rushing defense: 5th (98.1 YPG).

— Third-down defense: 21st (43.5%).

— Red-zone defense: 13th (59.57%).

— Time of possession: 14th (30:43).

— Turnover differential: T1st (+12).

Steelers

— Total offense: 25th (329 YPG).

— Scoring: 13th (26.1 PPG).

— Passing offense: 17th (240.1 YPG).

— Sacks allowed: 1st (12).

— Rushing offense: 31st (88.9 YPG).

— Third-down offense: 16th (42.08%).

— Red-zone offense: 13th (63.83%).

— Total defense: 2nd (297.9 YPG).

— Scoring defense: 2nd (18.9 PPG).

— Passing defense: 2nd (193.3 YPG).

— Sacks: 1st (47).

— Rushing defense: 8th (104.6 YPG).

— Third-down defense: 6th (53.85%).

— Red-zone defense: 3rd (36.55%).

— Time of possession: T8th (31:15).

— Turnover differential: T4th (+8).

Colts Notes

— Quarterback Philip Rivers needs one TD to tie Dan Marino (420) for the fifth-most TD passes in NFL history. Rivers’ next start moves him past Tony Gonzalez and ties London Fletcher (239) for the seventh-most games started in league history. Rivers needs one game with a 100+ passer rating to tie Peyton Manning (112) for the third-most games in league history.

— Linebacker Darius Leonard needs six tackles pass Duane Bickett (398) for the most tackles in a player’s first three seasons in Colts history.

— Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship needs 11 points to pass Cary Blanchard (135 in 1996) for the fifth-most, single-season points in franchise history.

— Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner needs two tackles to reach 200 in his five-year career.

— Jack Doyle needs two receptions to tie Ken Dilger (261) for the fourth-most receptions by a tight end in team history.

— Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton needs one touchdown to tie Marshall Faulk (51) for the eighth-most total touchdowns in team history. With one TD reception, Hilton will tie Jimmy Orr (50) for the fourth-most receiving TDs in team history.

— RB Nyheim Hines needs four receptions to tie Marshall Faulk (164) for the most receptions by a Colts running back and the fifth-most receptions for a Colts player in his first three seasons.

— Defensive end Justin Houston needs three sacks to reach 100 in his 10-year career.

— Running back Jonathan Taylor needs 120 yards rushing to pass Alan Ameche (961) for the fifth-most rushing yards by a rookie in franchise history.

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