Oakland Raiders vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Preview and Prediction

AFC Wild Card race will take shape In the rivalry that established the conference

It seems the Oakland Raiders have had the Pittsburgh Steelers' number in recent seasons. Since 2006, when the Silver and Black lost a franchise-record 14 games, the Raiders have defeated the Steelers four out of five times.

 

This streak has occurred during an era when the Raiders have not produced a single winning record and the Steelers have not suffered through a single losing record.

 

The Immaculate Reception will always be the signature moment of the rivalry, but Oakland quarterback Bruce Gradkowski throwing a winning touchdown pass with nine seconds remaining in 2009 or Terrelle Pryor defeating his hometown team four years later with a 93-yard touchdown run (breaking Kordell Stewart's record for longest run by a quarterback in NFL history) have allowed the Raiders to take a 15-12 lead in the All-Time Series.

 

If this trend continues Sunday at Heinz Field, it will establish the Raiders (4-3) as a true playoff contender for the first time in more than a decade and give the Steelers (4-3)  a losing record, something they haven't suffered in — you guessed it — more than a decade.

 

Oakland at Pittsburgh

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

TV: CBS

Spread: Steelers -6

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Can Ben Roethlisberger outperform David Carr?

Roethlisberger is a potential Hall of Famer. Carr is a player casual fans probably can't name.

 

But Carr is the NFL's fifth-ranked passer and third in the AFC. Only Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton have a higher passer rating than Carr, whose 15:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and better than 65 percent completion percentage stands out.

 

Roethlisberger, who struggled to overcome his knee injury in last week's 16-10 Steelers loss to Cincinnati, has a TD:INT ratio of 5:5.

 

The Raiders don't have a lot of burners, so look for them to utilize the traditional Oakland offensive weapon of throwing to their running backs — fullback Marcel Reece and Latavius Murray. It's helped them keep Carr upright and healthy this year, but the Steelers' evolving secondary may be able to make a big play if they are allowed to freelance.

 

Or get burned.

 

Roethlisberger could have the luxury of not having future Hall of Fame safety Charles Woodson in the Raiders' lineup. Woodson, along with defensive end and team sack leader Khalil Mack and linebacker Neiron Ball, did not practice earlier in the week.

 

2. Can DeAngelo Williams be a regular feature back at 32?

When Steelers' running back Le'Veon Bell was lost for the season after a knee injury last week, Pittsburgh lost the player that, had he not have been suspended at the start of the year for illegal drug use, would have likely been the NFL's leading rusher.

 

But during that suspension former Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams had two quality performances, rushing for 127 yards against New England and scoring three touchdowns against San Francisco.

 

Williams' statistics declined in his final years at Carolina for many reasons: age, sharing time with another back, and injury.

 

But an eight game stint for such a talented veteran sounds promising.

Whether he can match the performance of Murray is another story. Last week Murray rushed for 113 yards against the New York Jets, one of the tougher teams in the league against the run.

But he's also had two subpar games against Chicago and Denver, and the Raiders have lost both games.

 

3. Mike Tomlin's strategy.

There is a school of thought that if the Steelers' head coach hadn't gotten in the way, Pittsburgh could be 7-1.

 

Last week Tomlin allowed 38 seconds to tick off the clock rather than call a time out to stop the clock on the Cincinnati Bengals' final drive. On the ensuing drive, the Steelers drove to the Bengals' 14 yard line before time expired.

 

The play calls of the Steelers' 23-20 loss to Baltimore in overtime in Week Four led to Tomlin coming off the field commenting "My Bad."

 

The absurdity of asking Antonio Brown to throw a pass in the season opener halted what appeared to be a drive destined for a touchdown in a 28-21 loss to New England.

 

Still, Tomlin has never had a losing record as Steelers' head coach, has been to two Super Bowls, has hired two great coordinators and has never lost his team since taking the job in 2007.

 

Losing a game is a different story. In fact, Raiders' coach Jack Del Rio defeated Tomlin in a playoff game following the 2007 season primarily due to Tomlin's decision to go for two 2-point conversions towards the end of the game. The Steelers did not score on either, and lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars 31-29.

 

Final Analysis

 

The sad note about this game is it may be the last time the Steelers play the Raiders while they represent Oakland. Steelers-Raiders is the rivalry that originally defined the American Football Conference, and in the 13 years when the Raiders were in Los Angeles games between the two simply weren't the same.

 

Oakland Raiders means passion, fans wearing costumes, and AC/DC's "TNT" in the background. Los Angeles Raiders means empty seats, rap, and corporate greed.

 

So if the Raiders are destined to move after the season, be it to Los Angeles or San Antonio or St. Louis or London or wherever, then to many people this will be the last time the rivalry is really played.

 

It also means the Steelers will have played all three teams in the Los Angeles Derby this season. They've defeated the first two on the road, so it would figure Pittsburgh would do the same at home as well.

 

Prediction: Steelers 27, Raiders 21

 

— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson began contributing to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2000. He has covered the Steelers, Pitt Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.

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