(5-4, 6-3 ATS)
(6-3, 5-4 ATS)
Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers were up double digits on the Oakland Raiders down the stretch at home and blew the game as two TD favorites. Now, they’re only slightly more than a one score choice of the oddsmakers, against the same team around the same time of year in 2010.
Oakland is off of its bye week and off of a few really impressive showings. QB Jason Campbell has officially wrestled the starting signal caller job back for the silver and black, and he is well on his way to finishing out a great campaign in spite of the fact that he was benched just two weeks into the season. Campbell is getting a lot of help from RB Darren McFadden, who might be one of the best backs in the NFL this year. “Run DMC” is pacing the league’s second best rushing attack, as he has accounted for 757 yards on the ground and a team high six scores on the season. What we don’t realize about Oakland is just how good its defense is. This is a team that just brings it each and every day, and though there are some ugly results mixed in, the body of work as a whole is fantastic. The Raiders are holding teams to just 184.9 passing yards per game thanks to a unit that plays lockdown coverage and goes after opposing quarterbacks. Allowing just 309.7 yards per game is good enough for No. 6 in the league.
Last week, we talked about the Steelers looking mortal on defense, and after getting rocked by the New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football, we’re standing by that statement. This unit doesn’t look nearly as good without DE Aaron Smith in the fold, and the offense doesn’t look as great without both OT Max Starks and OT Willie Colon, the team’s two starting offensive tackles from the outset of the season. Now, there are defensive linemen just flying into the backfield left and right, and QB Ben Roethlisberger is starting to take a beating for it. Against this ferocious Oakland team that swarms to the ball like lions after a piece of raw meat, this could be a deadly combination. RB Rashard Mendenhall is going to be going up against a ton of seven and eight man fronts, and if he doesn’t find some gaps in the silver and black defense, it could be a long, long day for the Pittsburgh offense. The ‘D’ specializes in stopping the run, but even this unit struggled last Sunday against the Pats. If RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis can rumble for almost 100 yards on these guys, we have to wonder what McFadden and RB Michael Bush can do.
Don’t kid yourself. These two teams are a heck of a lot more evenly matched than it seems on paper. Oakland is going to challenge in this one from start to finish, and another upset could be in the cards. The Steelers should be very, very careful.
Pro Football Free Pick: Oakland Raiders +7