It's the preseason finale for Carolina & Pittsburgh. Don't expect many starters to play much if at all. The Steelers are small -2.5 favorites with a total of 41.
Steelers' Kicking Woes
It has been a rough preseason for Pittsburgh's place-kickers. In the preseason opener, a 14-3 loss to Minnesota in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, the Steelers lost Shaun Suisham to a season-ending torn ACL. He was one of the best in the NFL and hit 29-for-32 field goals in 2014 while also connecting on all 45 extra-point attempts. To replace Suisham, the Steelers signed veteran Garrett Hartley, a career 81.7 percent kicker on field goals. He only kicked in two games with Cleveland last year and was 3-for-3. Alas, Hartley is now hurt. He suffered an apparently serious hamstring injury in Saturday's 43-19 loss in Buffalo.
So on Monday, the Steelers traded for Jacksonville Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee. He is the all-time leading scorer in Jaguars history with 1,022 points and has made 235 field goals over his 11 seasons there. He also holds the team record with a 59-yard field goal, which he made in 2010 to beat Indianapolis. Scobee is a career 80.8 percent kicker who made 20 of 23 field goals in 2014. Pittsburgh opted to give up a late-round pick or player to be named for Scobee rather than signing a free agent such as Billy Cundiff, Alex Henery or Jay Feely.
That's the second trade the Steelers have made since camp started, also acquiring cornerback Brandon Boykin from Philadelphia for a fifth-round pick. The Steelers also had to sign free-agent quarterback Michael Vick to back up Ben Roethlisberger because projected No. 2 Bruce Gradkowski got hurt. Vick made his Pittsburgh debut on Saturday against the Bills and looked quite good, completing 4-for-5 for 106 yards. The 35-year-old threw a 63-yard bomb to Martavis Bryant on his first attempt as a Steeler.
Expect Vick to play most of this game because he's so new to the team and still learning the offense. I'd be surprised if Roethlisberger plays at all. Third-string Landry Jones also should see plenty of snaps. This will be the final time Steelers' fans see star running back Le'Veon Bell or Bryant for a while. Bell is suspended the first two games of the regular season and Bryant the first four. So maybe they play longer than usual just to keep them somewhat sharp. Bell's backup? Long-time Panther DeAngelo Williams.
The Steelers figure to be focusing on their pass defense in this one as well. They were gashed in that loss to the Bills as Buffalo QBs E.J. Manuel, Tyrod Taylor, Matt Simms and Matt Cassel -- not exactly a group of stars -- hit on 30 of 33 passes for 386 yards and three scores.
Carolina Offense Scuffling
The Panthers are 2-1 this preseason, winning at Buffalo 25-24 in their opener, 31-30 at home to Miami and then losing 17-16 at home last Friday to New England. The Carolina defense looked good early in that game as the Patriots' first six drives were four three-and-outs and two Tom Brady interceptions. Carolina QB Cam Newton finished 17 of 28 for 160 yards and a touchdown. But the Panthers offense hasn't been sharp yet, scoring 20 points on 15 drives this preseason. Don't expect to see Newton in this game, which makes Carolina a risky NFL Pick for week 4.
The Panthers suffered one of the most devastating injuries in the NFL in August as second-year Kelvin Benjamin, easily the best receiver on the team, suffered a season-ending ACL injury. The new No. 1 likely will be 2015 second-round pick Devin Funchess, but he has been plagued by injuries all camp and missed the past two preseason games. In the one game he played he had two tough catches for 53 yards. Funchess aggravated a hamstring injury on Monday in practice so he's very iffy for this one. Second-year player Corey Brown, a potential starter like Funchess, has had a serious case of the drops of late (four against the Patriots). So you might be looking at Ted Ginn Jr. and Jerricho Cotchery as your starters, this may be a reason for Pittsburghs -2.5 Odds. Yikes.
One Carolina rookie for sure will be starting Week 1 barring an injury before then. That's defensive end Kony Ealy (Missouri). Coach Ron Rivera has announced he will start at right defensive end Week 1 against the Jaguars -- that used to be the spot of Greg Hardy, who is now with the Cowboys. Ealy has two sacks against first-team offenses this preseason.
This game is utterly meaningless so I'll just stick with the home side