Seeing the Bengals (8-3-1) on the other side of the line of scrimmage generally helps. Roethlisberger is 14-6 against Cincinnati in his career and is typically at his best late in the year. Roethlisberger is 31-13 in games played after Dec. 1, though the Steelers have split with the Bengals in each of the last two years.
''I've been here a long time and so it's easy for me to know what this game means and what this part of the season means,'' he said. ''We'll keep an eye on the young guys and make sure that they understand the importance of it as well.''
A victory Sunday and Pittsburgh is right back in the mix for the division title. A loss and the Steelers likely need to win out to have any shot at the playoffs. As explosive as the offense has looked at times, Pittsburgh is averaging just 18.3 points a game on the road compared to 35 at home. It's a disparity that Roethlisberger knows needs to even out.
''We're a confident group,'' he said. ''We feel that we've got some players that are some of the best playmakers in the game of football. We just need to come out and execute and play good football when it counts.''
NOTES: LB James Harrison (knee), tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and safety Troy Polamalu (illness) also did not practice on Wednesday. ... Rookie LB Ryan Shazier was a full participant and should play for the first time in a month barring a setback.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (7-2) at CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-3)
The Panthers are hoping to win their sixth straight game when they host the Patriots on Monday night.
Carolina is coming off of a defensive battle with the 49ers in which it came out on top 10-9, marking its fifth consecutive win (SU and ATS). New England, however, won a 55-31 shootout with the Steelers before last week's bye. That win moved the Patriots to 5-4 ATS for the season, but they are just 1-3 ATS on the road. The Panthers are 6-3 ATS overall, and 3-1 ATS at home. The last time these teams met was in December of 2009 when New England won 20-10, but failed to cover a 12.5-point spread at home. Since the Panthers entered the league in 1995, the Patriots hold a 3-2 SU series advantage, but Carolina is 4-1 ATS in the series. Both teams have some positive trends, as New England is 23-7 ATS (77percent) after gaining 175 or more rushing yards in their last game since 1992 and they are 79-45 ATS (64percent) as an underdog during that time. However, over the past three seasons, the Panthers are 14-4 ATS (78percent) after playing their last game on the road, and 7-3 ATS after allowing 14 points or less in their previous game. The Patriots are excited to finally have RB Shane Vereen (wrist) back on the field, but top CB Aqib Talib (hip) is still questionable for Monday night. Carolina enters this one pretty healthy, with the biggest concern being G Chris Scott, who is questionable with a knee injury.
New England finally got its offense going against the Steelers last game, racking up 610 yards of total offense. QB Tom Brady threw for 432 yards and four touchdowns in the game, giving him 13 touchdown passes on the season and just six interceptions, a far cry from his 34 TD and 8 INT in 2012. TE Rob Gronkowski and WRs Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson all had more than 120 receiving yards and a touchdown, with the rookie Dobson scoring twice. RB Stevan Ridley extended his touchdown game streak to four with 115 yards and two touchdowns on 26 attempts (4.4 YPC). Brady now plays against the Carolina defense, which has been dominant all season. New Englands defense will have to do a better job stopping the run in order to slow down QB Cam Newton and his Panthers offense. The Patriots allow 128.2 rushing yards per game (30th in NFL) and that does not bode well for them against Carolina. They are, however, a solid team against the pass as they allow just 232.8 yards per game through the air (12th in NFL). New England's defense has done a poor job of getting of the field on third down (40.3percent conversions, 24th in NFL), but has held strong in the red zone (48.3percent, 7th in NFL). CB Aqib Talib, who is the Patriots best man-to-man defender in the secondary hasn't played since injuring his hip in Week 6, and could be a key addition if he's able to suit up on Monday night. New England will be looking to strip the football, having produced 11 takeaways over the past five games.
The Panthers traveled to San Francisco last week and won 10-9 behind a stellar defensive effort, holding the Niners to a paltry 151 total yards including 46 passing yards on 22 attempts. Carolinas defense has been a nightmare to play against this season. The unit has allowed just 201.3 yards per game through the air (5th in NFL) and 82.0 yards per game on the ground (2nd in NFL). The Panthers lead the NFL in fewest first downs allowed (16.0 per game), which is a big reason they have a league-low 26:08 defensive time of possession. They are also tied for first with 13 interceptions, and rank third in red zone defense (36.8percent efficiency). Carolina will need to apply pressure to Tom Brady and smother him as they have nearly every other quarterback so far this season with 29 sacks (T-8th in NFL). QB Cam Newton is going to have to play mistake-free football against the Patriots' aggressive secondary, something his team did for the first three games of their current win streak where they have averaged 28.0 PPG. Newton has thrown for 1,970 yards, 13 TD and 8 INT this season. He has also rushed for 266 yards and four touchdowns. With RB Jonathan Stewart back healthy, the team has gone with a committee approach to running the football with Stewart and fellow RBs DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert. The team has rushed for more than 100 yards in all five of its wins (121 rush YPG) and must eat away at the porous Patriots run defense in order to keep Tom Brady off the field. If Aqib Talib is out and the Panthers running game is on, Newton should be able to exploit the Patriots secondary.
NFL notes: Winning turnover battle will be critical for Pats
Cause for alarm? Not at this stage, but it throws a caution flag out on the field heading into the regular season. It also gives us reason to examine some of the variables involved in the equation.
One of the long-standing trademarks of the Patriots during the Bill Belichick era has been winning the turnover battle. In each of the last three seasons, in fact, the team has been among NFLs best for having the best turnover differential.
A large factor for that success is that the Pats were so good at holding onto the football, Beyond Belichicks constant preaching on the subject, much of it has had to do with the players typically handling the ball.
Whether it was Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski or Danny Woodhead, they were pretty sure-handed.
While Welker did fumble twice last season, between receiving, rushing and return duties, it can be argued that two fumbles in 128 touches isnt bad. In six seasons with the Pats, totaling nearly 900 touches, Welker put the ball on the ground six times.
Gronkowski and Woodhead each recorded one fumble last season, while Hernandez had none. Woodhead was also given the ball in many situations, including kick returns because of his record of ball security. He registered three fumbles in three seasons, with close to 500 total touches.
With at least four rookies expected to be added into the mix this year, including Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Zach Sudfeld the latter one of the fumblers Thursday theyre going to have to show they can be depended upon to protect the football.
Ditto Shane Vereen. He figures to get more action as the third-down back, but will he be as reliable as Woodhead, or as Kevin Faulk learned to be before him?
Heres the point. If Pats arent as good at protecting the football as they have been in the past, it could put undue pressure on the defense.
The offense has been very good in not putting the defense in too many bad spots with turnovers. Its been the great equalizer, helping some less-than-stellar defenses stay afloat.
If those numbers turn drastically different, it will add stress on the other side of the ball. While the defense held up pretty well Thursday night in the first half, holding Detroit to just 16 points despite four turnovers, that cant be the norm.
No matter what, you have to (cover) their back, and they have to have your back, Faulk said when reached Friday.
Faulk, who is teaching and coaching at his alma mater, Carencro (La.) High, was coaching a football game Thursday night, so he missed seeing the Lions fiasco live.
I didnt watch, but I heard, Faulk with a laugh. Four turnovers coming out of the gate? We barely would have four turnovers in a season. Thats not a recipe for a successful season, Ill tell you that. Ball security; thats your job.
Faulk had a fumbling problem early in his career, but he cured it through hard work. He believes that fumble-prone Stevan Ridley and two of Thursday nights fumblers Vereen and Brandon Bolden can solve the problem, and that the Pats will be as dedicated as ever to protecting the football when the real games start.
This is what training camp and the preseason is for, to get all this out, he said. Theyll be OK. Theyll get an earful (this week from Belichick). That comes with the territory.
To wit, Belichick on Friday provided the ultimate answer when asked if he was sending a message to his players by sitting Sudfeld, Vereen and Bolden for a stretch after their fumbles.
Was it sending them a message? Our message has been the same here from Day One that ball security is of the highest priority for anybody that handles the ball; thats a message from Day One. I think that message has been delivered on a daily basis since we started practicing back in May, Belichick said. I dont think there are any new revelations about that message. Ball security is very important to anybody who handles the ball in any situation. There can be no mistake about the importance of it. There can be no mistake about that message. That message has been delivered ad nauseum.
Belichick influence felt
Belichick makes an impression not only on the players he coaches, but league-wide. How else do you explain Robert Griffin III, bringing up the name of the Patriots coach?
He used Belichick as a reference, just as one might use the term going postal. Only RG3, who has suffered some criticism due to a willingness to speak his mind, wasnt about to go all Belichick on the media. That isnt his style.
I sat down and talked to a few people to make a decision: Do I stop being who I am, stop being honest with you guys and give you guys ammunition to turn against this team, or do I just go into a shell and Bill Belichick it all week? Griffin said last week. Im just going to continue to be who I am. And if something like that does happen, you make the statement to make sure everybody gets its clear. But I dont think I can change who I am just because people are going to take my words and put them against me.
So no Belichicking it for him.
Anything but Sanchez?
Think the Jets are privately hoping praying that Geno Smith will do something rather obvious to beat out Mark Sanchez? The players sure sound as though theyre on board with Smith.
Said Jets guard Willie Colon of the rookie: Im most impressed with his composure. His ability to come out of the huddle and get the plays going and get guys lined up. It seems like he has a good grasp on the offense and hes a competitor so I have a lot of faith in him.
Jolly Roger lauds on Dez
Cowboys legend Roger Staubach tossed out some heavy praise for Dez Bryant after playing catch with the receiver during Thursdays Silver and Blue practice.
The Hall of Fame quarterback asserted Bryant was as good as any receiver in the National Football League.
Well if he stays healthy, there wont be a better receiver in the league than Dez Bryant, Staubach told the Dallas Morning News. I dont think theres anybody better at what he can do in the league and there are some great receivers in the league, but what he did in the second half of the year last year is as good as it gets.
He makes great plays, hes got speed, hes strong, he has great hands. (Ex-Dallas star) Drew Pearson was like a basketball player, and I wasnt afraid to throw it into a tight situation because I think he could figure out how to catch it. Some guys cant do that. I think Dez has the hands. He can do it. You can throw the ball in there and hes going to figure out how to get it, out of the hands of a linebacker or a defensive back.
When you have that kind of confidence in a receiver, and hes got the ability to do that. The way he played last year was fantastic and he seems like hes a good kid. Hes getting his life together. I dont know him. I just go on what I read. I was throwing to him tonight, though, so I tested him out. Hes a great receiver.
For the record, Bryant had an eight-game stretch last year in which he had 879 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
Throwing it out there
Even though its hard imagining Tim Tebow coming in to a game to replace Tom Brady in order to run the option, its possible they might be on the field at the same time with Tebow lined up in the backfield.
With that in mind, Patriots historian Bob Hyldburg researched touchdown passes made by any other Patriots player in the Brady era. As it turns out, only six other players have thrown a touchdown pass for the Pats.
They are QBs Drew Bledsoe, Matt Cassel, Vinny Testaverde and Brian Hoyer, wide receiver David Patten and kicker Adam Vinatieri.
Meanwhile, the last time the Patriots had a running back throw a touchdown pass was on Nov. 23, 1997, when Dave Meggett did it. Dick Christy, Tom Yewcic, Andy Johnson, Craig James, Mosi Tatupu and Jon Vaughn have also thrown a halfback option pass for a touchdown in a regular-season game for the Patriots.
2015 Kentucky Derby Odds
Kentucky Derby week is one of the most thrilling times of the year. This race is known as "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports" for its approximate time length.
Check 2015 KY Derby Schedule May 1 and 24 at Sportsbook.com
Odds to Win 2015 Kentucky Derby
March Madness Bracket
$100K MARCH MADNESS BRACKET CONTEST
The biggest March Madness contest just got bigger.This year Sportsbook.ag is splitting a guaranteed $100,000 in cash among our Top 5 March Madness Bracket contestants. Plus awarding a combined $5,000 in Free Bets to 1,000 other members.Play for a whopping $75,000 first-place prize when you buy your first entry for just $15. Additional entries costs little as $5 and buying multiple brackets gives you the chance to take home the entire $100K prize pot.
Here’s a breakdown of the prizes:
1st Place $75,000
2nd Place $12,500
3rd Place $7,500
4th Place $3,500
5th Place $1,500
6th to 1,005th $5 Free Bet
Visit Sportsbook.ag for an early buy-in and to make your picks
Get a $100 Free Bet - Paid Cash - No rollovers