The Pittsburgh Steelers (rather surprisingly) are trying to snap a two-game losing skid as they visit the Oakland Raiders in Week 14. Despite the losses, the Steelers are 10-point underdogs on the road with an over/under of 51.5 points.
Pittsburgh’s lead in the AFC North is down to half a game on the heels of back-to-back losses to the Broncos and Chargers. Against Denver, the Steelers dominated the game for large stretches but were undone by four turnovers. Last week, the Steelers looked comfortable at halftime but allowed the Chargers to overcome a 23-7 deficit to win 33-30. If they don’t snap out of it fast, Pittsburgh will be in some trouble with a tough schedule down the stretch.
The Raiders, on the other hand, are in line to get the top pick in next year’s draft. For what it’s worth, Oakland gave the Chiefs a tough game last week, only losing 40-33. However, the Raiders are still just 2-10 on the season and would be lucky to win another game the rest of the season.
Next Man Up
If losing two straight games wasn’t bad enough, the Steelers have also lost running back James Conner to an injury that will keep him out of Sunday’s game. The Raiders are one of the worst teams in the NFL at defending the rush, so this is a bad time to be missing Conner. Rookie Jaylen Samuels will start in his place, although veteran Stevan Ridley will also get plenty of carries despite having just 21 touches this year.
Even without Conner, the Steelers will want to run the ball as much as possible. The Oakland pass defense has been surprisingly solid this season. Also, Ben Roethlisberger has thrown six interceptions in his last three games. They’ve also asked him to throw 45 or more passes in four of his last five games. Pittsburgh may be putting too much on Roethlisberger right now, and with or without Conner, they need to find more balance.
Is This a Fluke?
Out of nowhere, the Raiders have showcased a viable rushing attack the last few weeks. Jalen Richards has provided a spark and helped take some of the pressure off Derek Carr, who threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns last week. Carr has six touchdown passes over the last three weeks and hasn’t thrown an interception in seven straight games.
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh defense has been getting gashed on the ground recently. When they can force teams to throw, the Steelers have the kind of pass rush that can cause problems. They also should have more success against Oakland’s receivers than they did a week ago against the Chargers. But they still have to find a way to do better against the run.
Don’t Buy the Hype
Despite the Steelers losing back-to-back games, they haven’t played that bad. Even without Conner, they are likely to get back on track against the Raiders. Prior to last week, Oakland’s last six losses all came by at least 14 points. Even at home, they struggle to compete for 60 minutes. Bet on the Steelers covering the 10-point spread on Sunday.