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INDIANAPOLISWhat looked like their toughest game of the 2020 season for so much of the year now seems to be a pick ‘em matchup in Week 16.

The surging Colts (winners of 3 straight) face the reeling Steelers (having lost 3 of 4 games) in Week 16.

Here are 7 things to watch for as the Colts (10-4) travel to Pittsburgh (11-3) for a 1:00 PM kick on Sunday:

1. Offensive Tackle Scramble

We will get into the Steelers’ recent issues, but one thing that is not a worry for Pittsburgh is their defensive front.

They are stout in the trenches and often control the line of scrimmage.

And this key skyrocketed in importance later in the week, as Anthony Castonzo (questionable) injured his ankle in practice and will miss Sunday AND Braden Smith went on the COVID-19 list. The Colts are scrambling at tackle right now, which only adds to the stress at this vital position. Will this unit be able to keep Philip Rivers clean and allow for the offense to achieve the balance we’ve seen lately?

2. Rattle Big Ben

No quarterback gets sacked less in the NFL than Ben Roethlisberger.

He gets the ball out quicker than any QB in the league and is playing behind a veteran O-line.

But the Steelers offensive tackles struggled in Monday’s loss to the Bengals. If the Colts can disrupt that quick rhythm for Big Ben, they can make the Hall of Famer look like it’s time to hang it up. That might sound harsh, but it’s the reality of how the Steelers passing game has looked in December.

3. Turnover Margin

When the Steelers win the turnover margin this year (8 games), they are undefeated. They are 3-3 win they don’t.

The Colts are tied for 1st in the NFL with a plus 12 turnover margin. The Steeles rank 4th at plus 8.

In last year’s meeting (with Jacoby Brissett/Brian Hoyer facing Mason Rudolph) this was a huge storyline in Pittsburgh squeaking out the victory.

4. What About Ebron?

You think there will be some jawing between Eric Ebron and his former team on Sunday?

Ebron had some candid feelings about his end with the Colts, calling out the team’s management this summer.

Lately, Ebron’s propensity to drop the football has shown up in Pittsburgh. Now, Ebron did get banged up on Monday night and left the loss to the Bengals early, so his availability for Sunday is up in the air. In 14 games this season Ebron has 51 receptions, 511 yards, 4 TDs and 7 drops

5. Embrace The Elements

We know the playoff stakes on the line in the final two weeks (the Colts remain in a solid position, yet would be wise to keep winning), but Pittsburgh has been a terrible destination for this franchise.

The Colts have won 1 of their past 16 meetings in the city of Pittsburgh (a win in 2008). That spans back to 1968 and is something certainly on the mind of Owner Jim Irsay.

With Sunday’s line having the Colts favored by 1.5, that’s the second time the Colts have been favored in these road matchups in the Steel City.

6. Final Stand Defense 

A major, major reason why the Colts have won their last 3 comes with how their defense has defended inside the 20, and 10-yard lines.

The Colts have allowed just 5-of-13 conversions in the red zone, including forcing 3 turnovers. That 38% conversion rate allowed would easily be the best in the NFL. With goal-to-go situations, the Colts have allowed 2-of-6 conversions. That 33% rate would also easily lead the NFL.

The yardage issue is there right now for the Indy defense, but these stats are massive in pointing to why the Colts are undefeated in December. Is this here to stay?

7. Pro Bowl Motivation

There’s not a player in the NFL who deserved to be selected to the Pro Bowl more than DeForest Buckner.

An already extremely self-motivated individual, Buckner will now have even more down the stretch (and I think Kenny Moore should be thrown into this group, too).

The Colts need that level from Buckner, and a general rise from the defense after some recent leakage.

 

Bowen’s Prediction: Steelers 20-19. I didn’t think this would be a coin flip type game, but welcome to the NFL in 2020. As one team seems to be surging (the Colts), their opponent this Sunday (the Steelers) is reeling. Still, this is going to be a very tough defensive challenge for the Colts. This isn’t like facing the Texans or Raiders defense. I’m expecting some sense of urgency and rebounding from the Steelers, but they have some real flaws that the Colts can expose. Finishing drives off will be the deciding factor to me, and I see the Colts settling one too many times in this one.