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Pregame stretch:
Dolphins vs. Steelers

December 6, 2013 - Ray Eckenrode

Miami Dolphins (6-6) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-7)
Sunday, 1 p.m. EST, CBS

Announcers: Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts
Annoyance factor: Unpredictable. You can count on solid work from Eagle, who’s due for a higher national profile. Fouts is the guy who’s been all over the place the past two years. He can seem insightful or clueless, sometimes on back-to-back plays. With Dan Dierdorf retiring, there will be an opening on CBS’s No. 2 team and Fouts would be next in line if they stay in house, which makes you wonder if he’s not trying too hard.
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Weather - or not?: Wintry mix, cold, 60 percent chance of precipitation, mid 30s. Three words: Mike Wallace weather. When he wore black and gold, you could count on the receiver to disappear in cold weather games like clockwork. We’ll see if the extra incentive of sticking it to his ex-teammates and fan base motivates Wallace to thaw out at all on Sunday.
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How they rank
Miami offense: 17th passing, 25th rushing
Pittsburgh defense: 11th passing , 18th rushing
Pittsburgh offense: 8th passing, 31st rushing
Miami defense: 9th passing, 25th rushing
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Referee: John Parry
Competence factor: Overofficious. Parry’s crew is near the top of the league in penalty yardage assessed and holding penalties called, which could be a stark difference from last week when Clete Blakeman’s crew watched over an entire Steelers-Ravens game without calling a single holding penalty.
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The line: Pittsburgh -3
Smarts say: This line is probably 1.5 points worth of home field and 1.5 points worth of public betting (at midweek, almost 65 percent of the action was on Pittsburgh). Nearly every over/under on the Steelers this year has been between 40 and 42 and it's not different this week at 41, which would equate to 22-20 Steelers (even though we know a game never ends in a 22-20 score).
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Key matchups:
Dolphins CB Brent Grimes vs. Steelers WR Antonio Brown and Steelers CB Ike Taylor vs. Dolphins WR Mike Wallace
Because: Could it be any other way? Forget about the nightmarish offensive line matchups with Olivier Vernon (10.5 sacks) and Cameron Wake (6.5 sacks). The Steelers deal with that nightmare every week and it rarely (although not never) affects the outcome. This game will hinge on which offense is able to spring a couple big plays in the passing game. Grimes has emerged from near anonymity to be considered a Top 5 shutdown corner, but that same was said about Joe Haden two weeks ago, and the Steelers and Brown found a way. On the other side, a patented Wallace straight-line TD would go a long way toward shifting critical momentum toward the Dolphins in what figures to be another field-goal game. And, of course, the Steelers have given up more of those kinds of plays than any team in the NFL so avoiding that here might be the key to a W.

Long snap:
It’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room at every NFL meeting.
It’s terrifying – and it's lurking out there.
We’ve discussed it theoretically many times in this blog and the day we have to discuss it in practical terms will be a sad day indeed.
What happens when an NFL player dies on the field? Perhaps on national television?
We don’t think we’re being dramatic or alarmist in mentioning this and we guarantee you it’s something the NFL higher ups think about and discuss. It’s a matter of physics. Force = Mass x Velocity. Players are not getting smaller and they're not getting slower. It's pure science that NFL collisions are becoming more forceful. And it’s just a matter of time until that blunt force leads to fatal trauma.
We all got a pretty good idea what that kind of trauma might look like on Thanksgiving night in the form of the collision involving Le'Veon Bell and two Ravens defenders, one of the most violent we’ve ever seen. We saw a helmet fly off, a body go limp in midair and a quick-thinking and fearful teammate push a camera lens away. For many, it was the first time “dead” entered their minds, even for just a split second, while watching an NFL game. For others, more jaded, better connected, the thought was more likely, “Is this it?” Of course, it wasn’t IT. Somehow, miraculously and thankfully, Bell walked off the field, not injured as badly as the magnitude of the collision gave us reason to believe he might be. Another concussion. Another round of talk about retraining football players on how to protect their head and neck. Another deep sigh of relief from the men who run the game (and who would never admit that deep sigh happened).
Although the NFL is being disingenuous about the reason for its safety push, which is profit, the push itself is very necessary if the league is going to survive … but likely doomed to failure. At its core, football is a three-hour fistfight. It’s repackaged blood sport for a modern mob. It’s dressed up with hometown colors and parking lot parties and legal, illegal and fantasy gambling, but when all that’s stripped away, it boils down to two words, words we’ve likely all uttered while watching football, some of us weekly: HIT HIM. You can’t change football by rule without changing the essence of its appeal. It’s always been a violent game, but now, thanks to advanced training and pharmaceuticals, it’s frighteningly violent and even fatally violent. And although the NFL is trying to do something to protect its cash cow, we’re not sure the men and women who run the league and own its franchises can save the game, only manage its decline.

Quick hits:
The Mike Tomlin saga has been overdone to death, so we just have a few quick thoughts:
+ We have no insight into Tomlin’s intent and neither do 99.9% of the people commenting on this situation with absolute certainty they are correct.
+ What common sense we have and our observations of human nature tell us his actions were not intentional. That said, they were wrong and affected the outcome of a game and merited a heavy fine.
+ That said, fining Tomlin the same amount the Jets were fined for an admitted and long-term attempt to cheat is absurd. The fact an NFL spokesman said “intent” was not considered in Tomlin’s case is even more absurd. It’s another case of the NFL doing what it always does. It ignores a problem until it can’t ignore it anymore, then overreacts.
+ We saw many people noting Tomlin's behavior at his Tuesday presser was suspicious because it was vastly different than the standoffish tact he takes in other weeks. Um, a little perspective, please. Of course it was different! He was discussing his own personal integrity and livelihood, not strategy in a football game.
+ Oh yeah, there’s a football game Sunday featuring some guy named Mike Wallace. Our take on that: Wallace was a good wide receiver for the Steelers who had some exceptional games. As a third round pick, his Pittsburgh career ranks as an unqualified success. That said, Wallace was not nearly as good a receiver as he believed and the Steelers were absolutely correct in allowing him to leave rather than pay what it would have taken to keep him (even if he has a big game Sunday and eliminated his former team from playoff contention).

The pick: According the number crunchers at, the Steelers still have a 12 percent chance of making the playoffs while the Dolphins have the inside track for the final AFC spot at 54 percent. You know what that means. Set aside concerns about the week’s distractions and the patchwork offensive line Pittsburgh will field and let the beauty of NFL chaos be your guide ... Steelers 20-17.
Last week: Unfortunately, our streak of being wrong about the Steelers losing ended last week as we were right about a narrow Ravens victory. That leaves us at 5-7 straight up and 6-6 against the spread.

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