Carolina Panthers (2-12) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-4)
— One of the bright spots in this otherwise lost season has been the play of RB Jonathan Stewart. Against Arizona, Stewart carried a season-high 27 times for 137 yards, a fantastic outing and exactly the style of play coach John Fox wants to rely on. Fox likes to keep his offense simple and basic; running the now-healthy Stewart early and often is a good way to get the results. Stewart now has back-to-back 100 yard games and looks to be a strong candidate to return next season. Expect his former backfield made, the injured DeAngelo Williams, to be playing elsewhere in 2011.
— It’s not much, but at least it’s something: QB Jimmy Clausen snapped a streak of 202 passes without a touchdown pass Sunday when he found Jeff King for a 16-yard scoring strike. Clausen finally seemed to figure things out this past Sunday against Arizona; he didn’t throw any picks, cough up any fumbles or make any ill-advised throws. he finished 13-for-19 for 141 yards and finished with a very solid QB rating of 107.6. If he can show well over the final two games, the Panthers probably won’t look for QB help in the 2011 NFL Draft.
— More shuffling along the offensive line: It sounds as though Jonathan Scott might be benched in favor of Trai Essex. Scott had inherited the LT job previously held by Max Starks (Starks is on IR and out for the year) but was benched on Sunday after missing a block that cost Pittsburgh a safety late in the fourth quarter.
— Pittsburgh will hope to get SS Troy Polamalu back in the lineup on Thursday night. He missed the Jets game but was seen on Monday walking around the practice facility without any noticeable limp. If he does suit up against the Panthers, expect life to get increasingly difficult for Clausen and the Carolina passing game.
Baltimore Ravens (10-4) at Cleveland Browns (5-9)
— Keep an eye on Ray Rice in this game has he continues to get better and better as the season progresses. Against New Orleans on Sunday, Rice produced a career-best 233 all-purpose yards. Over 150 of those came running the football, giving Rice 1,051 for the season and making him the first Ravens RB to compile back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons since Jamal Lewis did it six years ago.
— It appears the book is out on how to stop RB Peyton Hillis: stack against the run, dare any other Cleveland Brown to beat you. In consecutive weeks both the Dolphins and Bengals have put extra men in the box to take away Hillis’ running opportunities, and the plan has worked. Hillis could only managed 57 yards against Miami two weeks ago and just 59 against Cincinnati last Sunday. Hillis has also failed to find the end zone in two straight games — no surprise that Cleveland has only managed 15 points per contest.