Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward (knee) is expected to return to action this week after missing two games with a knee injury. It'll probably take him a bit to get back in to the swing of things though. Ward is a weak No. 2 or a strong No. 3 receiver this week while Holmes is a weak No. 3 or a good injury replacement. Our sources feel the team will try to emphasize Santonio Holmes a lot down the stretch to prepare him to be a starter next season. Safety Troy Polamalu (knee) will not play this week, and if the team still has a slim chance next week, he may play. Our sources feel they will end up shutting him down for the season with their playoff hopes so slim.
Linebacker Joey Porter was fined $10,000 for remarks made about Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. after the Week 14 game. Winslow tried to talk to him in warm-ups, and Porter blew him off. Perhaps Porter is trying to feel good about himself after a disappointing season?
The Steelers defense has a tough matchup against Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith this week. The team doesn't plan to use cornerback Ike Taylor on Smith despite speculation. They will probably try to match him up with cornerback Bryant McFadden, who is a physical defender. Safeties Ryan Clark and Anthony Smith are big hitters, so they may double-team him to rough him up with McFadden.
Looking ahead to next season, the team could cut Porter because he's closer to the end of his career than the beginning. He was up and down this year, and they may try to replace him. However, if head coach Bill Cowher leaves, all bets are off. Center Jeff Hartings could retire as his knees are causing problems. The team may look for an offensive tackle to replace Max Starks as well. The team will use the rest of the season to evaluate him.
Cowher told the media he'll make a decision on his future in the next couple of weeks. Our sources said it will depend a lot on what the owners will pay him. The source feels he'll ask for too much as he wants to be paid like a Super Bowl-winning coach. Cowher is a big family man, and his daughters are playing college basketball. So, he may move to Raleigh, N.C. It's very possible that Cowher leaves the team and takes the year off or retires altogether.