With the Pittsburgh Steelers' lack of success on the ground this season, one of the major reasons for their 1-2 start, they're going to need a big effort from returning starter Rashard Mendenhall if they want to have a shot at knocking off the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 5.
Philly is 3-1 after two nail-biters during the first two weeks that went their way and a big Sunday Night Football win against the New York Giants. After dropping the first game against the new-look Denver Broncos, the Steelers have split their next two games before their bye week occurred in Week 4.
It's a big road game for the Eagles, who have a chance to take a commanding, multiple-game lead in the NFC East with a victory.
For the Steelers, starting 1-3 would certainly spell disaster for their playoff hopes, especially with Baltimore and Cincinnati climbing fast in the AFC North.
Continue reading for a comprehensive look at everything that will get you ready for gameday, including betting info, fantasy football outlooks and more.
When: Sunday, October 7 at 1:00 p.m. ET
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
TV: FOX (check local listings)
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Listen (radio): 94 WIP Sports Radio (Philadelphia), 102.5 WDVE FM (Pittsburgh)
Spread: Pittsburgh -3.5 (via Bovada)
Apparently, Heinz Field has a bigger home-field advantage than we really know. After getting exposed by Oakland without defensive starters Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, both are back against the Eagles, which has to factor into the line.
I'm laying the points this weekend in this game. Too many close calls for the Eagles early on. That Pittsburgh defense will force one too many Michael Vick turnovers, and the Steelers use the bye week to finally establish a running game after three weeks of not having one.
Who wins this Week 5 tilt?
Over/Under: 43 (via Bovada)
The return of the two starters on defense is the difference for coach Mike Tomlin's team, and it's also the difference in the over/under. With an added emphasis on running the football and keeping the clock moving, the Steelers are able to shorten this game.
All it will take is one turnover to derail the Eagles' attempt at creating their own pace, and I think the score will reflect that this weekend. Take the under.
Injury Report (via CBSSports.com)
WR Jason Avant, wrist, probable
WR Riley Cooper, collarbone, probable
WR Damaris Johnson, foot, probable
LB Mychal Kendricks, calf, probable
LB Akeem Jordan, hamstring, questionable (no practice)
RB LeSean McCoy, knee, probable
S Troy Polamalu, calf, probable
LB James Harrison, knee, probable
RB Rashard Mendenhall, knee, probable
Fantasy Big Plays
Philadelphia: RB LeSean McCoy
After back-to-back lackluster weeks, when he averaged less than 75.5 rushing yards per game, McCoy turned it on against the Giants. He showed great vision in running lanes on the way to 123 yards and 5.3 yards per carry.
Against the stingy Pittsburgh defense, I think he'll do much of the same, following the outline Darren McFadden layed out in Oakland's Week 3 victory over the Steelers. McCoy will take some big hits this weekend, but I can also see a long touchdown run in his future, especially with Pitt gearing up to load the box and stop the run.
Predicted Stats: 24 carries, 118 yards, 1 TD
Pittsburgh Steelers: QB Ben Roethlisberger
Big Ben is off to a hot start in 2012, throwing for eight touchdowns to his lone interception through three games. He's averaging over 300 yards per game, and although the Steelers are desperate to establish the run, I think it's going to take some time for Mendenhall to regain his old form.
The Steelers are going to need plays from their QB, and Big Ben will deliver. He's had to have the ball in his hands late in games so far this season. That's led to a 1-2 record, but don't sleep on Pittsburgh's ability to throw the ball in bunches when they need to.
Predicted Stats: 20-of-29, 298 yards, 2 TD, 2 carries, 21 yards
Key to Eagles Victory: Avoid Turnovers on the Road
Nothing excites the Terrible Towel faithful more than a momentum shift, and Philly has been unreal at giving the ball back to the other team before they're supposed to. Vick has two more interceptions than touchdowns so far, and the return of Polamalu and Harrison will only energize this defense.
Look for the Steelers to blitz early and often in this game as they try to establish a sense of urgency, while also forcing Vick to make decisions, which he hasn't been great at doing so far. That could change in a flash, but for right now, the turnovers are the thing keeping Philly from being considered elite.
Key to Steelers Victory: Control the Pace
The Eagles can strike at any time with their talented offense, so Tomlin's main objective should be to control the clock and keep that offense on the sideline.
Lucky for him, Mendenhall looks to be back in full effect this weekend. I don't think he'll have a huge game, but effective play-calling and making sure the battle of first down goes Pitt's way is a big determining factor in who wins this Week 5 affair.
While the 3-1 Eagles are red hot off their win over the New York Giants, karma finally strikes the mean green. They get outplayed on the road, and it costs them, unlike how they were able to hang on and beat the Cleveland Browns in Week 1.
Heinz Field and the running game prove to be the difference, and the Steelers survive another day with the bye week to help heal some old wounds. Rashard Mendenhall is a welcomed face to a team only averaging 65 yards on the ground per game, and a late stand in their own territory will give the Steelers the victory.
Predicted Final Score: Steelers 20, Eagles 16