Christmas Eve at 5 p.m., and the Las Vegas Raiders are playing the Pittsburgh Steelers — what could be better? Two historic franchises, prime time spot, great uniforms — Merry Christmas to all of us with this one.
Of course, it is worth pointing out that the talent on the field could be better, but let’s not get bogged down with negativity this holiday season. The Raiders are still technically alive in the playoff hunt (I’ll be honest: I chuckle every time someone shows the “playoff picture” and includes the Raiders at the bottom, but I suppose it could be worse) — as are the Steelers, both of whom are 6-8 overall.
Pittsburgh is coming off of a 24-16 victory over the Panthers last Sunday in which they held Carolina to just 209 total yards — and 21 of them on the ground. The Raiders, of course, are probably still coming off of the high that was their win over the Patriots, but on a short week, we’ll find out how quickly they were able to move forward…
Pittsburgh: 27th in points per game (17.9), 26th in yards per game (317.9)
Good news for the Raiders defense: as bad as Mac Jones was last Sunday, this week’s opponent might actually be worse. Mitch Trubisky was under center last Sunday, and while he played alright (17/21 for 179 yards), I can’t imagine Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham staying up at night worrying about him.
That said, even against the Patriots, the Raiders defense looked vulnerable. If not for a handful of missed passes from Jones, the Patriots (who are just ahead of Pittsburgh in yards per game) may have scored quite a bit more than the 24 they ended up with.
Las Vegas: 19th in 3rd down conversion rate (38.24%)
Last Sunday, the Raiders converted just five of their 14 third down attempts, a feat that nearly cost them the game as they gained just two first downs on their first six drives of the second half. The Steelers are middle-of-the-pack in this category (14th), so I’ll be curious to see if the Raiders can maintain an offensive rhythm for a full 60 minutes this week.
Pittsburgh: Najee Harris
A week after allowing Rhamondre Stevenson to run for 172 yards on just 19 carries, the Raiders face a team that may be more committed to the run than just about anyone. Harris, who has struggled this season following a breakout rookie campaign, got the ball 24 times last week — a season-high — and has 5 touchdowns in his last five games. The flip side? He has yet to post a 100-yard game on the ground this season — will Sunday be his first?
Las Vegas: Davante Adams
Obviously, a key player for the Raiders, Adams has been held in check the past two weeks – totaling just 99 yards on 16 targets. Typically what happens is that Adams begins the game heavily involved but then wanes in influence as the game goes on — which, not coincidentally, is typically when the Raider collapse begins. For the Raiders offense to keep their foot on the gas, Adams must be involved intentionally by Josh McDaniels and Derek Carr — is Saturday night when we finally see that happen?
Raiders 27, Steelers 16
Mike Tomlinson is the far better coach, but when it comes to talent on the field the Raiders should be able to win this comfortably. I know it’s a road game, and I know it’s going to be freezing — but with the momentum of Sunday’s crazy win, this one is a must-get for Josh McDaniels and Co. I think the Raiders do what they normally do: get out to a quick lead, but this time they actually pound the rock and bleed the clock out a bit.