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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Detroit Lions: Prediction, preview, pick to win

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The Sports Xchange
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) runs for the sidelines during the fourth quarter of the the 29-14 win at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on October 22, 2017. File photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) runs for the sidelines during the fourth quarter of the the 29-14 win at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on October 22, 2017. File photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (5-2) AT DETROIT LIONS (3-3)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Ford Field. TV: NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (field reporter).

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SERIES HISTORY: 32nd regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 16-14-1. Steelers have won eight of the past nine in the series, including the past four. Steelers are 5-12 in Detroit, but they have won three of the past five there, including a 28-20 victory at Ford Field in 2009.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Steelers have found success with a run-first mentality and they'll look to continue that against the Lions, who struggled to stop the run in their last outing against the New Orleans Saints, who rushed for 193 yards in a 52-38 victory.

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The Steelers haven't been afraid to feed the ball to Le'Veon Bell in recent weeks. He is coming off consecutive 100-yard rushing games and tallied 134 on 35 carries in last week's victory over the Bengals. The Steelers won't be afraid to mix in the pass against a Lions defense that is allowing 244 passing yards per game (22nd in the league).

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Ben Roethlisberger has bounced back from a dreadful five-interception performance against Jacksonville in victories over Kansas City and Cincinnati. He has thrown three touchdown passes while getting picked off just once. He'll need to be careful against a Lions defense that has forced 14 turnovers (No. 3 in the league), including nine interceptions.

The Steelers' defense has to find a way to stop a Lions offense that is eighth in the league in scoring (26.8 points per game). The Lions scored 38 points last week and have scored 24 or more on three other occasions.

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The Steelers' top-ranked pass defense will be tested by Matthew Stafford, who has thrown 12 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Golden Tate has 363 receiving yards and two touchdowns and will have to make some plays against Steelers corners Joe Haden and Artie Burns.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

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Steelers WR Antonio Brown vs. Lions CB Darius Slay. Slay and Brown squared off in joint practices last year, and Brown easily got the better of the Lions' cornerback. Slay has played well this season against some of the NFL's top receivers (Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones, Michael Thomas), with the lone exception being Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin. Brown doesn't have Benjamin's size, but he's the most dangerous receiver in the NFL and the Lions need Slay at the top of his game or it could be a long night.

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Lions RT Rick Wagner vs. Steelers OLB Bud Dupree. The Lions made Wagner the highest-paid pure right tackle in the NFL last offseason and have to be disappointed with the results so far. Wagner has been solid as a run blocker, but he has struggled in pass protection and this week faces a player Lions coach Jim Caldwell called "a very, very good upfield rusher with some spark and drive." Wagner was nicked up before the bye with an ankle injury; but, given the Lions' uncertainty at left tackle, they need Wagner to start living up to his contract.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Steelers CB Joe Haden. The Steelers signed Haden just before the season started after the Browns released him, and he has helped to solidify the secondary. The Steelers are No. 1 in the NFL against the pass, allowing just 147 yards per game. Haden is a big reason. He recorded his first interception for the Steelers against the Bengals last week and helped hold A.J. Green to just three catches for 41 yards.

FAST FACTS: In the past two meetings, Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger has 644 passing yards, seven TD passes and one INT. In his past four games vs. NFC clubs, he has 1,175 yards (293.8 per game), eight TDs and one INT. ... RB Le'Veon Bell had 192 scrimmage yards (134 rushing) in Week 7 and now has at least 180 in three of the past four games. In 13 games vs. the NFC, he has 1,665 scrimmage yards (128.1 per game) and 10 TDs (nine rushing). He ranks second in the NFL with 684 rushing yards and third with 898 scrimmage yards. ... WR Antonio Brown caught a TD pass last week. He leads the NFL with 52 catches and 765 yards. In the last meeting, he caught seven balls for 147 yards and two TDs. Since 2013, he has 533 catches, 105 more than the NFL's No. 2 player in that span (Demaryius Thomas, 428). ... LB T.J. Watt has four sacks, tied for the lead among NFL rookies. He is one of three players with at least four sacks and an interception in 2017. ... Detroit QB Matthew Stafford passed for 362 yards and two TDs in his only career game vs. Pittsburgh. He has 1,132 yards (283 per game), nine TDs and two INTs in his past four home games. ... RB Theo Riddick has 300 scrimmage yards and three TDs in his past four vs. the AFC. His 156 receptions since 2015 are the most among NFL RBs. ... WR Marvin Jones has four receiving TDs in his past eight games vs. the AFC North. He caught six passes for 96 yards and a TD in Week 6. ... DE Ezekiel Ansah has four sacks and a forced fumble in his past five games. He has two sacks in his past five games vs. the AFC. ... Rookie PR Jamal Agnew returned a punt 74 yards for a TD in Week 6. He leads the NFL with two punt TDs and 261 punt-return yards.

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PREDICTION: The Lions have given up 79 points the past two games, and Bell figures to be a big problem.

OUR PICK: Steelers, 31-24.

--Chris Cluff

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