Week 14 of the NFL season matches up two clawing AFC wild card hopefuls in the city of Pittsburgh. The 5-7 Pittsburgh Steelers host the 6-6 Miami Dolphins on Sunday afternoon in yet another chance for both teams to pave their paths to the playoffs.
The Dolphins and Steelers have managed to choke their way through the season with a win-then-lose mentality. Last week the Dolphins scored a 23-3 victory over their division foes, the New York Jets, to jump ahead in the wild card race. The Steelers are coming off a tough loss to their rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, thanks in part to the lackluster late effort by Emmanuel Sanders who dropped the game-tying two-point conversion.
Sanders appeared to have been too busy preparing his Ray Lewis impersonation to focus on his ball skills. It was yet another game where Sanders came up short when his quarterback, and team, counted on him.
Sanders’ play has been reminiscent of the Dolphins new star Mike Wallace‘s final year in Pittsburgh. While the Steelers may miss Wallace’s speed, his inconsistent hands are a welcomed deduction from the Steelers offense. Wallace’s arrival in Miami was supposed to be a game-changer for second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Wallace quickly demonstrated he could drop the ball in both warm and cold weather, making the Steelers brass look smart for ditching Wallace instead of the league’s leading receiver, Antonio Brown. Wallace is, however, coming off his best stretch of the season with 209 receiving yards and two touchdowns in his last two games.
He will face off this week against his friend, Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor.
Like Wallace, Taylor has also found both fame and infamy in 2013. He has shut down the likes of Torrey Smith and Calvin Johnson for two or three quarters, only to inexplicably disappear for the rest of the game. Wallace has mentioned his excitement at returning to Pittsburgh to face Taylor, but not necessarily in December at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh fans can’t wait to greet the prodigal son…as long as Taylor has four quarters of quality football ready.
Wallace isn’t the only weapon Tannehill will be using on Sunday. Brian Hartline actually leads the Dolphins with 62 receptions for 804 yards. William Gay and Cortez Allen will both get a chance to shut down the reliable Hartline. Tannenhill would love to use both Hartline and Wallace to get his 23rd-ranked offense off to a great start in Pittsburgh. And with the way the Steelers have been scoring points recently, he may need a couple deep balls to keep up with Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger’s gritty performance behind a battered offensive line has been nothing short of an inspiration. No matter what man is up from week to week, the offensive line has been battling to keep their star QB clean. Roethlisberger will take snaps from the fourth center this Sunday as newcomer Cody Wallace will replace Fernando Velasco (torn Achilles tendon). Starting left tackle Kelvin Beachum will likely be held out with a knee injury, replaced by the now-infamous second-round flop, Mike Adams.
Despite the numerous story lines heading into Sunday, the weather may serve up the biggest impact. With windy and snowy conditions predicted to hover over Heinz Field, both offenses may struggle in the passing game. The Steelers have an obvious edge with burgeoning star running back Le’Veon Bell leading the way.
Bell suffered a frightening fourth-quarter concussion against the Ravens but has surprisingly passed all the necessary tests. The Dolphins’ rushing duo of Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas has been stuck in neutral and of little help to Tannenhill.
Whether Sunday ends up being a contest of who can drop the most passes between Sanders and Wallace or a touchdown showdown with bosom buddies Wallace vs. Brown, the Steelers have a quarterback who wins in wintry December. The Dolphins have a QB who has never thrown a football in the snow.