By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers could head into their Week 9 bye essentially having the AFC North division locked up. But first, Pittsburgh has to take care of business in Detroit against the Lions this upcoming Sunday.
Pittsburgh is playing its best football of the season and has won consecutive games for the first time since the first two games of the season. The Steelers are coming off a 29-14 beat down of the Cincinnati Bengals last week. With the win, the Steelers improved to 3-0 against their AFC North foes and they hold a two-and-a-half game advantage in the division. They have outscored their divisional rivals 76-41 in the three games, defeating Cleveland (21-18) in Week 1 and arch-nemesis Baltimore Ravens (26-9) in Week 4.
If the Steelers are able to come away with a victory over the Lions Sunday night, they would be 6-2 on the season with a favorable second-half schedule. Pittsburgh plays five of its final eight games at Heinz Field. Only three of the remaining teams on the schedule currently have a winning record, and the Steelers’ two toughest games figure to be home contests against New England and Green Bay, where they are 20-7 since the beginning of the 2014 campaign.
Pittsburgh is the reigning AFC North champion and has captured the division crown two times in the last three years. The Steelers have finished atop of the AFC North seven times and have 22 divisional championships in their history. Since 2014, the Steelers are 15-6 in the regular season against other AFC North teams. They have dominated the Bengals (6-1) and Browns (6-1) during this period. However, the Ravens have had the Steelers’ number, winning four of the seven contests. The Steelers travel to Cincinnati (Week 13) before hosting Baltimore (Week 14) and Cleveland (Week 17).
Baltimore is currently second in the division, though they have lost two straight and are 3-4 on the year. The Ravens, who have nine players on injured reserve, face Miami at home on Thursday night. They then travel to Tennessee for a Week 10 matchup before their Week 11 bye. Baltimore also closes the season with five of its last eight games at home. The Ravens are 2-1 in the division this season, defeating the Bengals (20-0) and Browns (24-10). They have won four AFC North titles with the last being in 2012. They are 12-9 against the division since 2014.
Cincinnati is 2-4 on the season and 1-2 in the division. The Bengals, who already had their bye week, have the second-best point differential in the division at -14. The Bengals host Indianapolis this upcoming week before playing three straight road games. They then finish the season with four home games over the final six weeks. The 2015 North division champs are 12-9 against the other members of the division in the last three and a-half seasons. Cleveland is one of two remaining winless teams. The Browns have 11 wins over the last four seasons, going 7-9 in 2014. They are 3-18 in their last 21 divisional games.
Mike Tomlin says Steelers aren’t interested in trading wide receiver Martavis Bryant
Disgruntled wide receiver Martavis Bryant, talking to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, once again made it clear he wants a bigger role or for the team to trade him.
Despite his demands, coach Mike Tomlin told reporters that the Steelers don’t have any plans of trading Bryant.
“We’ve invested a lot in Martavis since we drafted him. He’s not available via trade. We’ve invested a lot. We’ve covered a lot of ground,” said Tomlin. “It’s obvious we’ve got more ground to cover with him because we’re having a conversation with him that’s not football-related.”
Bryant, who denied that he wanted out of Pittsburgh the week leading up to Bengals game, had one reception on three targets for three yards against Cincinnati. He also had one rushing attempt for two yards. If he is not traded, Bryant reportedly will leave as a free agent when his contract is up following the season.
Steelers did not suffer any major injuries during Week 7 win over Bengals
The Steelers headed into last Sunday’s game against the Bengals without two starters: OT Marcus Gilbert (hamstring) and DE Stephon Tuitt (back). It was the fourth game Gilbert has missed this season—all in the last five weeks. Tuitt has now missed three games this season. Gilbert may be back this week against Detroit while Tuitt’s status in unclear.
Backup tight end Vance McDonald was the only player who suffered a semi-serious injury in the game against the Bengals. McDonald left last week’s game early with a knee injury and there is a chance that he misses the game against the Lions.