The Oakland Raiders visit the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9 of the 2015 NFL season in a matchup between two potential playoff teams. Under first-year head coach Jack Del Rio, the Raiders appear to have turned a corner after a decade of struggles as they look to extend their winning streak to three games.
Oakland has been one of the biggest surprises this season, going 4-3 and holding a top-four record in the AFC. Pittsburgh has been hampered by injuries, and while they are among the most talented teams in the AFC, they are no guarantee to make the postseason. The Steelers are 4-4 after losing two straight games.
The Raiders are getting 4.5 points on the road, according to vegasinsider.com. The over/under is 48 points.
Derek Carr Playing Like A Top Quarterback
Three quarterbacks were drafted ahead of Carr in last year’s NFL Draft, but the Raiders’ signal caller has easily played the best of the four players. After enjoying a solid rookie campaign, Carr has avoided a sophomore slump with some impressive performances.
Some may argue that Carr has been a top-five quarterback this season with statistics backing up his play. His 105.7 passer rating ranks fifth in the NFL, and his 15 touchdowns and three interceptions give him the third-best ratio in the league. Carr was most impressive against the New York Jets in Week 8, not only because he threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns, but because he torched one of the league’s best defenses.
Oakland has scored fewer than 20 points in just one of the six games in which Carr has taken the majority of the snaps. They’ll be facing a Steelers defense that’s been quite consistent, ranking fifth in points allowed, having surrendered 23 points or fewer in every game since Week 2. Pittsburgh held New England, the league’s No.1 scoring offense, to their fewest points of the season.
Le’Veon Bell Out
Bell was the NFL’s most dangerous offensive weapon last season, and he picked up where he left off after a suspension to start the year, averaging 126.8 yards per game from scrimmage from Weeks 3-7. But Pittsburgh will be without the running back on Sunday, as well as for the rest of the season.
Pittsburgh’s offense hasn’t been completely intact all season because of suspensions and injuries, but the unit played well when Bell was out for the first two games of the season. The Steelers scored 64 points in their first two games, as DeAngelo Williams was a more than adequate replacement, rushing for 204 yards and three scores. He didn’t get more than five carries in any of the next five games, but Williams ran the ball nine times for 71 yards when Bell went down this past weekend.
Despite Bell's injury, the Steelers’ ground game was productive against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 8. Pittsburgh failed to come away with a win due to some errors made by Ben Roethlisberger, who threw three interceptions in his return to action.
Pittsburgh’s loss to the Bengals put them 3.5 games out of first place, likely ending any chance they had to win the AFC North. Even though Oakland has exceeded expectations, the 7-0 start by the Denver Broncos gives the Raiders little chance to win the AFC West. Both Pittsburgh and Oakland are leading candidates to win a wild-card spot, placing extra importance on Sunday’s game.
The Raiders currently hold the No.5 seed in the AFC, followed by the Jets at No. 6. Pittsburgh would replace Oakland in the playoff picture with a victory, but a win for the Raiders would put them in a strong position to make the playoffs. They have the tiebreaker over the Jets because of last week’s win, and Oakland is in a great spot to make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.
The Raiders have been so bad for so long that it’s hard for some to believe that they are a legitimate playoff contender. But they have a talented offense that can hang with most NFL teams, including the Steelers. Pittsburgh has the edge at home, and their offense should put up points, considering Roethlisberger’s poor results in Week 8 was out of character. Both teams have a chance to win, and the game might be decided by a field goal.
Pittsburgh over Oakland, 27-24