The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking tonight to keep pace with the New England Patriots, who yesterday became the first team in the AFC to reach 10 wins. Pittsburgh is the only other team who entered the week with a chance to do that, and to do so they will have to come out of Cincinnati with a win.
While it is true that they have been able to do just that quite often in recent years—they have won three straight in Cincinnati, and four out of five—I will hasten to add that past experience does not guarantee future results.
While I have no compelling reason to believe that the Steelers should lose today’s game, division games have a funny way of revealing unexpected outcomes, even if games against the Bengals have been a relatively safe bet in recent years.
And being without Antonio Brown would be a major complication, of course. He does have nearly a third of Ben Roethlisberger’s completed passes on the season with over 40 percent of his yardage thrown and exactly 40 percent of his touchdown tosses, so that is kind of a big chunk of what they do on offense.
Obviously, the Steelers should have some options at wide receiver even if their superstar at the position cannot go. Believe it or not, but there are 31 teams around the NFL who have to play without Antonio Brown every single week. It’s a scary thought, I know, but somehow slightly less than half of them manage to win their games.
Roethlisberger managed to throw four touchdown passes last week without JuJu Smith-Schuster on the field, for example, who has five of the team’s 20 receiving touchdowns on the year, and the rookie will be back in action.
Martavis Bryant was able to play a bit of a bigger role in Smith-Schuster’s absence the game prior to this, and obviously would play even more if Brown misses the game. If he ever had a complaint about targets, he probably won’t have to worry about it playing without Brown on the field for a game.
And I have a feeling there are more than a few out there who are very curious to see what Bryant looks like on the field without Brown getting half the targets. If not simply because they are rooting for him, almost at the expense of the rest of the team, then because they just want to get an answer about who he really is as a player at this point.
The two players who may be most looking forward to such an opportunity minus Brown, however, are Eli Rogers and Justin Hunter, both of whom spoiled some pretty significant opportunities to be contributors the week prior. The two combined for three dropped passes and overall rather little production.