Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Las Vegas Raiders
Line: Pittsburgh -2 or -2.5 (Circa and South Point)
Where: Acrisure Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
When: Saturday, 12/24 at 8:15 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network
A pair of 6-8 teams with marginally thin playoff chances will square off on Saturday night in a de facto elimination game when the Steelers host the Raiders at Acrisure Stadium.
Las Vegas is a 20-1 longshot to make the playoffs at DraftKings following its wacky win over New England last week. Pittsburgh is listed at 30-1 to make the postseason after picking up a 24-16 win at Carolina in Week 15.
Oddsmakers opened Pittsburgh as a 1.5-point favorite, but the early betting action pushed the line up to -2.5. The total has dropped slightly from 40 to 38.5, part of which can be attributed to the sub-15-degree temperatures expected in Pittsburgh on Saturday night.
The Raiders have won four of their last five games after stunning the Patriots on one of the strangest finishes to a game in league history. New England decided to lateral the ball twice on the final play of regulation in a tie game, with the second lateral being snagged by Raiders defensive end Chandler Jones and returned for a touchdown at the horn.
“At first, I thought, ‘Who’s around me?’” Jones said. “I felt myself stumble a little backwards, and then I was thinking, ‘Who do I pitch it to?’”
Las Vegas led 17-3 at halftime before allowing New England to score 21 straight points. The Raiders scored two touchdowns in the final 32 seconds to end a six-game losing streak to the Patriots and keep their slim playoff hopes alive. They are two games back of the Chargers and Dolphins in the Wild Card standings, so they will need to win out and get some help.
The Raiders come into this week ranked No. 11 in the NFL offensively, averaging 358.1 yards per game. Quarterback Derek Carr has completed 61.2% of his passes for 3,348 yards, 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His favorite target has been wide receiver Davante Adams, who has 86 receptions for 1,275 yards and 12 scores.
Running back Josh Jacobs powers the Las Vegas rushing attack, racking up 1,495 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He is facing a Pittsburgh defense that is No. 19, allowing 347.8 yards per game. The Steelers’ strength has been stopping the run, ranked seventh in rushing yards allowed per game (109.0).
They are in the same position as Las Vegas as far as the postseason is concerned, sitting two games back of a playoff spot with three weeks remaining. The Steelers have kept their slim hopes alive with wins in three of their last four games, including last week’s 24-16 win over Carolina.
Veteran quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who started the season under center before giving way to rookie Kenny Pickett, got another chance last week against Carolina due to Pickett’s concussion. Trubisky completed 17 of 22 passes for 179 yards in the win as a 2.5-point road underdog against the Panthers.
However, head coach Mike Tomlin told the media that he expects Pickett to be available on Saturday night. The rookie signal caller has completed 65.0% of his passes for 1,797 yards, four touchdowns and eight interceptions this season. He commands an offense that is No. 26 in the NFL, allowing 317.9 yards per game.
Starting running back Najee Harris (hip) was a limited participant in practice on Tuesday before being held out of practice on Wednesday. He missed practice last Wednesday but ultimately rushed 24 times for 86 yards and a touchdown against Carolina—he is officially listed as ‘questionable’ for this week’s game.
Top wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who has 77 receptions for 745 yards this season, missed practice on Wednesday as well with a toe injury and is also ‘questionable,’ but Tomlin said earlier this week that he expected Johnson to play. Pittsburgh is facing a Las Vegas defense that ranks No. 24, allowing 361.6 yards per game.
Neither team has been good at taking care of business over the past two seasons. Las Vegas is 2-9 in its last 11 games against sub-.500 teams, while Pittsburgh is 4-11 against the spread in its last 15 games as a favorite. The Raiders are 4-1 SU and 5-0 ATS in the last five games between these teams, with the most recent occurrence being a 26-17 upset win as 5.5-point road underdogs last September.
The pick: Las Vegas +2.5
Injuries start to pile up this time of year, and Pittsburgh is certainly a prime example of that. The Steelers have their top three offensive players listed as ‘questionable’ as of Thursday afternoon. Las Vegas is dealing with less injury concerns heading into the weekend, and I have more faith in Carr to pick up a win on Saturday night than Pickett or Trubisky. The Raiders have covered the spread in four of their last five games during their late-season surge, and they have covered in five consecutive games against Pittsburgh. Jacobs is healthy while Harris is banged up—the rushing attacks are going to be a crucial element of this cold-weather affair.