Steelers come off of unexpected bye to host the Eagles in battle for Keystone State bragging rights
Whether it is a coincidence or not, the state of Pennsylvania has allowed a limited number of fans to return to attend sporting events this week. It just so happens the state's two NFL franchises are set to collide in Pittsburgh when the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers host the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles.
As many as 5,500 football fans will manage to socially distance themselves in Heinz Field while the Steelers look to prove there is plenty of distance between them and their Philadelphia counterparts. These may be division leaders, but the Steelers are looking to go 4-0 while the Eagles just won their first game of the season to move into sole possession of first place in the dreadful NFC East.
The Eagles picked up their first win on Sunday night with a victory against the defending NFC champion 49ers. Carson Wentz proved he could still carry the team at times to silence at least some of his critics after a poor start to the season. The Steelers, meanwhile, were forced to take a bye week after a COVID-19 outbreak with last weekend's scheduled opponent, the Titans, led to a rescheduling of the game (moved to Week 7).
Can the Eagles score a second straight road win, or will the Steelers come out of their unexpected bye week and continue their winning ways?
Philadelphia at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 11 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Pittsburgh -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Just how good are the Steelers?
Pittsburgh may be off to a 3-0 start, but those wins have not come against the league's top competition. The Steelers opened the season with a 26-16 victory over the winless Giants and followed that up with back-to-back home wins against the Broncos and Texans. Those three opponents have a combined record of 1-11. Of course, the Eagles come into the game with a suboptimal record of 1-2-1, lowlighted by a tie with the Bengals. This may not be the best litmus test for the Steelers considering how rough the Eagles have looked, but nobody can blame them for having won the games they have been asked to win.
2. Big Ben vs. Wentz
Wentz has come under fire as the Eagles have sputtered this season, and it has been warranted. Wentz has been picked off seven times in four games, which already matches his season interception totals for 2017 (13 games), '18 (11 games), and '19 (16 games). Wentz also is carrying a career-low passer rating (66.9) coming into the weekend and is on track to put up low-water marks in a number of other statistical categories. Ben Roethlisberger has been far more reliable early on, throwing for seven touchdowns with just one interception. Big Ben also currently has a career-high passer rating (105.2), nearly 40 points higher than Wentz's rating at the moment.
3. Steelers may have Dionte Johnson back in the lineup
After taking an early exit against Houston two weeks ago to enter the NFL's concussion protocol, has been cleared to return. He's also dealing with a toe injury that limited him in practice earlier this week but is not considered a big issue. If given the green flag to play, he will be a nice weapon to have in the Steelers' passing game against an Eagles defense struggling in that department.
Philadelphia is 17th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (243.5) but is giving up a 100.0 passer rating with seven touchdowns and just two interceptions. It also should be pointed out that the quarterbacks the Eagles have played thus far include a guy who just lost his starting job (Dwayne Haskins Jr.), a rookie (Joe Burrow), and a backup (Nick Mullens). Philadelphia has done a good job of getting to the quarterback (NFL-leading 17 sacks), so that will be a key against Roethlisberger on Sunday.
The Eagles' defense stepped up their game against San Francisco, but the Steelers won't be playing with a backup quarterback. Pittsburgh also is not as beat up as the 49ers were, so they won't be quite as vulnerable against the Eagles. The Eagles have to find a way to keep Miles Sanders involved in the offense and not abandon him once they do. But it will be the Steelers' ground game that leads the way in this one with James Conner and Benny Snell Jr. making for a quality 1-2 punch that could deliver some knockout blows to a gassed Eagles defense in the second half.
Prediction: Steelers 24, Eagles 16