Pittsburgh Steelers at New Orleans Saints
When: 4:25 PM ET, Sunday, December 23, 2018
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Preview for Digital Sports Desk by Gracenote
NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Saints are in the driver’s seat for the top seed in the NFC playoffs but are still looking for ways to improve after some sub-par showings offensively. The Saints will continue tuning up for the postseason when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
New Orleans still leads the NFC in scoring at an average of 32.8 points but put up 16.7 points over the last three games, capped by a 12-9 victory at Carolina on Monday. “Obviously, you’re constantly looking at what are the things you can do to score, how can you improve,” Saints coach Sean Payton told reporters. “I think this past week (against the Panthers), we shot ourselves in the foot quite a bit. On the road at Dallas, that’s a good defense and we felt it was going to be a low-scoring game. At Tampa, the same way. So, there’s some things that we feel like we can clean up and there’s some things, I know from my standpoint and us as coaches, that we can improve on and we’ll work to do that.” The Steelers are in the middle of their own playoff push and own a half-game lead over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North with two weeks left after snapping a three-game losing streak by holding off the New England Patriots 17-10 last week. Pittsburgh reached 30 points once in its last five games – a 33-30 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers – and is hoping running back James Conner (ankle) can return this week to give the offense a boost.
TV: 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Saints -5.5. O/U: 53
ABOUT THE STEELERS (8-5-1): Conner was named to his first Pro Bowl on Tuesday and is 91 yards shy of reaching 1,000 for the first time in his career but was limited in practice on Wednesday and remains questionable after sitting out the last two games. Rookie Jalen Samuels filled in last week and rushed for a season-high 142 yards on 19 carries behind an offensive line that had three members named to the AFC Pro Bowl squad. “Jaylen works hard, he doesn’t say much, he just goes about his business,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters. “In all phases we asked him to run it, blocking, catching it, he stepped up and I thought it was awesome. The line really opened some holes for him and helped things come to life, but how great was he? It was awesome. It was fun to watch him.”
ABOUT THE SAINTS (12-2): New Orleans has a pair of dynamic running backs in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, who combined for 130 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries Monday to keep the offense moving. The Saints are getting solid play from the defensive secondary, led by cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple, and will be going up against the most productive receiving duo in the league in Pittsburgh wideouts Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith- Schuster. “We’re just playing hard, playing for each other, playing great assignment football,” Apple told reporters. “Of course, our coaches are putting us in great position to make plays, and we just gotta keep it going.”
1. Saints WR Ted Ginn Jr. (knee) returned to practice and could come off IR.
2. Smith-Schuster (groin) was limited in practice on Thursday but is expected to play.
3. Pittsburgh is looking for its first win over New Orleans since Nov. 12, 2006.