Things have changed on the offensive line for the Steelers too, with Marvel Smith back in his role as starting left tackle. He played about 1 1/2 quarters of the Colt game before hobbling to the sideline with a twisted ankle. He was replaced by rookie Trai Essex, who did a good job against Dwight Freeney, keeping him from getting a sack, but Essex isn't the run blocker Smith is.
What the Steelers weren't prepared for was the noise. Roethlisberger had problems communicating with the rest of the offense, and he now says that was one of the reasons the Steelers lost. Since, they have gone to a silent snap count, which they will use Sunday.
Prediction: Indianapolis 21, Pittsburgh 17.
Carolina at Chicago
What happened the first time: At Chicago in Week 11, cornerback Nathan Vasher poured the foundation for the Bears' sixth consecutive victory by intercepting two passes, both of which set up scoring drives. Chicago's defense held Carolina scoreless for 3 1/2 quarters, and the Bears went on to win, 13-3.
What has changed for the losers: The Panthers, who couldn't run the ball for most of the season, are starting to get the hang of it. DeShaun Foster has replaced Stephen Davis, and, despite an injured toe that requires a painkilling shot before each game, the former UCLA star is doing a lot of damage. In the last two games, Carolina has rolled up 229 and 223 yards rushing. The team's offensive line is working together better than ever.
The first time they played the Bears, it was as if the Panthers bought into the notion that Chicago was merely a half-decent team in a bad division. If they didn't have a great deal of respect for the Bears then, they sure do now -- especially with quarterback Rex Grossman running the offense.
Prediction: Carolina 10, Chicago 7.