The suddenly slumping Pittsburgh Steelers will try to get back on track this week as they had to the west coast to face the Oakland Raiders. Kickoff is at 4:25 EST on Sunday, December 9, at the Oakland Coliseum. Fans in select markets will be able to watch the game on Fox.
Oddsmakers list the Steelers as 11-point favorites on the road. However, that line has dropped after Pittsburgh opened the week as 13-point favorites. The over/under for the game is set at 51.5 points. Click here to check out betting odds and game previews for all of this week’s NFL games.
After rattling off six straight wins to seize control of the AFC North, the Steelers have lost back-to-back games to the Broncos and Chargers. One could argue that Pittsburgh was the better team in both games. However, turnovers plagued them against the Broncos while the Steelers were the victims of a 2nd half collapse last week against the Chargers. With those two losses, the Steelers are just half a game ahead of the surging Ravens in the AFC North.
Even if Pittsburgh falls victim to an AFC West team for the third straight week, they still have the wild card to fall back on. However, after this week’s trip to Oakland, the Steelers have games against the Patriots and the Saints. If they can’t get a win this week, their season could really spiral out of control. Pittsburgh also has hopes of earning a first-round bye in the playoffs, so this week is definitely a must-win game for the Steelers.
As for the Raiders, they are no doubt eager to have their season come to an end. Oakland is 2-10 this year, with their only wins coming against the Browns and Cardinals. However, the Raiders haven’t thrown in the towel just yet. They may have parted ways with some key players, but Oakland also gave the Chiefs all they could handle last week, trailing by three points midway through the 4th quarter and only losing by seven points. Against another old rival this week, the Raiders could put forth a similar effort and push the Seelers for 60 minutes.
I know the Steelers are reeling and the Raiders have looked like a halfway decent team in recent weeks, but I’m still not buying Oakland as a legitimate threat in this game. Last week’s 2nd half collapse should get Pittsburgh’s attention and prevent them from looking ahead to next week’s showdown with the Patriots. If it weren’t for the two losses, taking the Steelers to cover would be a no-brainer. Let’s be honest, they haven’t played that poorly in those losses, so I feel comfortable eating the points and leaning toward Pittsburgh to cover.
Pittsburgh’s biggest concern this week is running back James Conner, who will miss the game with an injury. Against most teams, that would be a reason to worry, but not with the Raiders. The Oakland defense is giving up five yards per carry and over 150 yards per game on the ground. With those kinds of numbers, it may not matter who the Steelers have at running back. Even an untested rookie like Jaylen Samuels should have a productive game.
Of course, the Steelers can always lean on Ben Roethlisberger and their passing game if they can’t get it going on the ground. For what it’s worth, the Oakland pass defense is middle of the pack. Roethlisberger has also thrown six interceptions over the last three weeks, so ball security is once again an issue with him. That being said, the Steelers still have two 1,000-yard receivers in Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. For a team like Oakland that’s giving up over 30 points per game and has just 10 sacks in 12 games, it’s hard to envision the Raiders slowing down Pittsburgh’s passing attack.
On the other side of the ball, the Oakland offense has occasionally shown signs of life this season. Derek Carr has tossed six touchdown passes and no interceptions over his last three games. The Raiders are also averaging over 24 points per game during that span. However, that could be a result of playing poor defensive teams like Arizona and Kansas City. After all, the Raiders have been held to 10 points or less four times this year.
The Pittsburgh defense, meanwhile, deserves a fair amount of respect. Prior to last week, they held their opponents to 24 points or less in seven straight games. The Steelers could have kept that streak intact if not for the Chargers scoring a special teams touchdown and making an incredible 4th quarter comeback. Things should be a little easier this week against an Oakland offense that has been one-dimensional for much of the season.
In the end, I’m not buying that the Steelers are spiraling or that Oakland is actually improving. Outside of their win over the Cardinals, last week was the first time the Raiders didn’t lose by at least 14 points since September. Against a Pittsburgh team that is suddenly desperate for a win, the Raiders will get back to losing in lopsided fashion with the Steelers covering the spread with ease.