Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3) vs. Minnesota Vikings (0-3) at London
Both of these teams are 0-3 and both of them deserve to be 0-3 the way they’ve played thus far, but I think one team has a better chance of turning it around going forward. Minnesota I predicted before the season started would go 5-11 and right now even that seems optimistic. Last year’s 10-6 record was largely the product of a non-human season from Adrian Peterson, a strong record in close games (5-0), and some of the best injury luck in the NFL.
Now they are 0-3. Adrian Peterson came into this week 5th in rushing with 281 yards on 69 carries, not bad at all, but not what he was doing last season. The 1499 rushing yards he’s on pace for would be the 3rd best total of his 7 year NFL career, but a good 600 yards less than he rushed for last season. 2 of their losses have come by a touchdown or less, after they went 5-0 in such games last season.
Injuries, meanwhile, have been more of a problem. Kevin Williams missed the first game of the season, while top cornerback Chris Cook is expected to miss this game. The absence of Antoine Winfield, one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL last season, has also been felt as their secondary has been a major weakness. They had trouble with Brian Hoyer last week and now without Cook, they could be in a lot of trouble against Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for over 400 yards last week against a much tougher Chicago secondary in a losing effort. And, of course, Christian Ponder is out for this game with a rib problem, leaving Matt Cassel to start. He’s not a noticeable downgrade talent wise, but he has less familiarity with his teammates and the team could just mail it in at 0-3 without their starting quarterback.
The Steelers, meanwhile, I predicted to go 10-6 and make the playoffs this season. That’s one of the few things I’ve been really wrong about this season, but they won’t be this bad all season. While the Vikings seem bound for a top-5 pick, the Steelers could work their way back up closer to .500 before the season is over. They return Le’Veon Bell and Heath Miller this week (Miller played last week, but in limited fashion). They will help shore up their biggest needs on a horrific offense, namely the need for a talented running back and a safety value receiver that Roethlisberger is comfortable throwing to.
The Steelers offense already looked better last week. The Steelers had 21 first downs, 2 punts, and 459 total yards to 15, 6, and 258 for the Bears, but lost by 17 because they committed 5 turnovers, 2 which went for touchdowns, without forcing a single turnover. They are now -9 in turnovers on the season, tied with the also 0-3 Giants for worst in the NFL. Fortunately, that kind of thing tends to be inconsistent in the long run. They won’t recover just 22.2% of fumbles all season. They also can still play defense and it’s only a matter of time before they start forcing takeaways (0 on the season). I also like the veteran Steelers team in London more than the younger Vikings. I expect them to avoid an 0-4 start here and start resembling the Steelers a little bit more.
Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Minnesota Vikings 10
Pick against spread: Pittsburgh -3