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mesaSteeler
12-20-2010, 08:52 PM
Week 16 matchup: Carolina Panthers at Pittsburgh Steelers
PUBLISHED 7 hours and 28 minutes ago
LAST UPDATED 7 hours and 16 minutes ago
http://www.sportingnews.com/nfl/story/2010-12-20/week-16-matchup-carolina-panthers-at-pittsburgh-steelers

Three story lines to watch

Sights set high. The Steelers can secure a first-round playoff bye with victories in their final two games, despite coming off a loss to the Jets that ended their four-game losing streak. They have already clinched a playoff spot, but they have their sights set on bigger goals. The Panthers have not played at Heinz Field since 2002.

Out on top. No matter what happens, it appears Panthers coach John Fox has probably coached his last game in Carolina. Their victory against the Cardinals ensures Fox will leave town with a winning record (73-69) with two games remaining. Fox is one of three NFL coaches and the only head coach who was on Chuck Noll's staff with the Steelers.

Playing for April. The Panthers have the league's worst record (2-12) and are in position to get the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. They are winless on the road (0-6), winless in the division (0-5) and winless against AFC teams (0-3). Other than that, they are enjoying a fine season.

Three key Steelers

OLB James Harrison. The Steelers have 40 sacks, tied for third in the NFL, but they had just one sack in last Sunday's loss to the Jets and did not apply enough pressure on Mark Sanchez. The Panthers have allowed 43 sacks, second most in the NFL. Harrison (10) and LaMarr Woodley (8.5) are the league's top sack duo among linebackers.

WR Mike Wallace. He has emerged not only as the team's big-play receiver, but also their most productive receiver. He had seven catches for 102 yards against the Jets, giving him 23 catches for 256 yards in the past three games.

RB Rashard Mendenhall. He had his first 100-yard rushing game at home since the season opener against the Falcons and averaged 5.9 yards per attempt against the Jets. Mendenhall has 10 runs of 20 yards or longer only three backs have more and will be facing a team that allows an average of 126.2 yards per game.

Three key Panthers

RB Jonathan Stewart. He had 137 yards rushing against the Cardinals to give him 668 yards on the season, but he will be facing the NFL's No. 1 rush defense that has allowed just one 100-yard rusher in the past 48 regular-season games and none in the past 15. However, the Steelers allowed a season-high 106 yards to the Jets.

QB Jimmy Clausen. He threw a touchdown pass against the Cardinals only his second of the season. Since replacing Matt Moore as the starter, he has seven interceptions in 243 attempts, averages just 5.4 yards per attempt and the league's lowest passer rating (59.1). What's more, he has only 13 completions of 20 yards or longer, fewest in the league.

DE Charles Johnson. Only 24 and in his fourth NFL season, he leads the team with 9.5 sacks, but has six in his past five games. He will be lined up against RT Flozell Adams, who is 11 years older. Adams has been solid in pass protection and hasn't been responsible for too many of Ben Roethlisberger's 29 sacks in 10 games.

The bottom line

Too much is at stake for the Steelers to look past the Panthers, especially after their near-miss loss to the Jets that ended their four-game losing streak. It is a short week for both teams and, because of that, the Steelers will probably not play their big-play safety, Troy Polamalu, whose absence was felt against the Jets. Clausen will be getting his first look at Dick LeBeau's defense and that is never a good thing for any quarterback, let alone a rookie. The Steelers' No. 1 rush defense will shut down Stewart and make the Panthers one-dimensional, which is not good news for Fox in his final days with Carolina. Prediction: Steelers 34, Panthers 9.

SN correspondent Gerry Dulac


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