LIONS PLAYER TO WATCH: RB D’Andre Swift. Swift leads NFL running backs with 47 receptions and ranks second at the position with 415 yards receiving. He has scored five touchdowns, more than doubling the total of any teammate while serving as a security blanket for QB Jared Goff.
STEELERS PLAYER TO WATCH: TE Pat Freiermuth. The second-round draft pick is coming off a two-touchdown performance in last week’s victory over Chicago. Freiermuth has supplanted veteran Eric Ebron atop the depth chart and has caught 82% (27 of 33) of the passes thrown his way.
KEY MATCHUP: Detroit offensive line vs. Pittsburgh’s edge rushers. Steelers LB T.J. Watt had three sacks last week against the Bears and has 11 1/2 on the season. If the Lions want to have any chance to pull off the upset, they need to protect Goff. Detroit has surrendered 22 sacks through eight games.
KEY INJURIES: Detroit LT Taylor Decker could make his 2021 debut against Pittsburgh. Decker missed each of Detroit’s first eight games while dealing with an injured left index finger suffered just before the season opener. Backup RB Jamaal Williams is dealing with a thigh injury. His absence would give even more of the workload to starter Swift. … The Steelers are hopeful Ebron returns after missing each of the last two games with a hamstring injury. … WR Chase Claypool’s status is in doubt due to a toe injury.
SERIES NOTES: The Steelers have won each of their previous five meetings with the Lions. Detroit is 0-3 at Heinz Field, with each loss coming by at least 10 points. … Pittsburgh is 12-3-1 all-time against Detroit at home and 9-0-1 in last 10 visits by the Lions. Detroit’s last victory in Pittsburgh came on Nov. 13, 1955, a 31-28 win at Forbes Field, 66 years and two stadiums ago for the Steelers.
STATS AND STUFF: The Lions are the NFL’s only winless team and are trying to avoid joining their 2008 squad that went 0-16 in league infamy. … Goff is averaging 9.7 yards per completion, tying for 31st in the league. The former Los Angeles Ram was sacked a season-high five times by Philadelphia. … WR Kalif Raymond has 26 receptions for 334 yards and two scores. He entered the season with no more than nine receptions in any of his four seasons with Denver, both New York teams, and Tennessee. … TE T.J. Hockenson had a career-high 10 receptions for 89 yards against the Eagles. He has averaged eight receptions the previous three games after a three-week stretch in which he had a total of eight catches. … Decker’s return to Detroit’s offensive line should shift rookie Penei Sewell to RT. … Detroit’s average margin of defeat is 13.75 points. … The Lions allowed Philadelphia to run for 236 yards. … Rookie LB Derrick Barnes has five-plus tackles in three of his last four games, including seven against the Eagles. … Pittsburgh will be without starting QB Ben Roethlisberger, who was added to the reserve/COVID-19 list on Saturday. … The Steelers have won four straight following a 1-3 start to get back in the mix in the AFC North. The Steelers haven’t exactly been blowing away opponents during their surge. Pittsburgh’s average margin of victory during its hot streak is just 4.5 points. … Close wins have been the norm for the Steelers. Each of Pittsburgh’s last seven wins dating back to last season has been by eight points or less. … Watt’s 61 career sacks rank fifth in franchise history. Watt is in just his fifth season with Pittsburgh. … Steelers rookie RB Najee Harris has scored at least one touchdown in each of Pittsburgh’s last five games. … Pittsburgh’s revamped offensive line is still trying to figure out how to protect the quarterback. Roethlisberger has already absorbed 18 sacks this season; he took just 13 sacks in 2020. Now, Mason Rudolph will start. … The game might be the last one the Steelers are favored in for a while. Pittsburgh’s daunting second-half schedule includes matchups with Baltimore (twice) and visits to both the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City. … Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin won his 150th career game last week, passing Hall of Famer Bill Cowher for second on the franchise’s all-time win list. Tomlin reached 150 wins in 232 games, the fourth-fastest time by a coach in NFL history. … The Steelers have been winning despite middling play by the defense. Pittsburgh is 14th in yards allowed through eight games. The last time Pittsburgh finished outside the top 10 in yards allowed came in 2016. … The Steelers forced multiple turnovers (two) for the first time this season last week against Chicago. Pittsburgh forced multiple turnovers 11 times while winning the AFC North in 2020.
FANTASY TIP: Freiermuth has quickly become one of Roethlisberger’s favorite targets and his combination of size (6-foot-5) and hands has made him dangerous in the red zone for Rudolph, too. Each of Freiermuth’s four touchdowns has come from 10 yards or less.