Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1) at Minnesota Vikings (5-7)
A week ago on the early line, the Vikings were favored by 4.5 points in this matchup, but this line has since fallen all the way down to 3, a significant shift, given that about 1 in 6 games are decided by a field goal exactly. I like to go against significant week-to-week line movements, as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week’s result. In this case, the Steelers beat the previously 8-3 Ravens last week, while the Vikings lost to the previously winless Lions, but I don’t think either result was that surprising or should have triggered this shift.
Both games came down to the final play and both the Ravens and Lions have played a lot of close games this year, despite their significantly different records, so the fact that the former finally lost one and the latter finally won one is not a surprise. As bad as the Vikings’ loss to the Lions was last week, the Steelers nearly lost to the Lions at home earlier this season, a game that ended in a tie, and, overall, the Steelers have been a much worse team than the Vikings this season, despite having a slightly better record.
Including last week’s close win over the Ravens, the Steelers have won their six games by a combined 26 points, with none by more than one score, while their five losses have come by a combined 68 points, with their only one-score loss coming in Los Angeles, in a game in which the Steelers lost despite winning the turnover battle and blocking a punt, which led to the Steelers cutting into what was a 14-point 4th quarter lead, despite losing the first down rate battle by 12.24% and the yards per play battle by 3.1 yards per play.
The Steelers other four losses all came by multiple scores, while the Vikings have not lost by more than one score all season and possess a significant edge in point differential (+3 vs. -42). In terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, the Steelers rank 26th, while the Vikings rank 18th. The Vikings are also a lot healthier this week than they were a week ago and the significant amount of missing personnel they had last week in Detroit is a big part of the reason why they lost.
They will still be without their top two edge defenders Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen and their starting left tackle Christian Darrisaw, while #2 wide receiver Adam Thielen will miss his first game of the season, but they will get back their top cornerback Patrick Peterson and their top two linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr and could also get back feature back Dalvin Cook and key reserve defensive back Camryn Bynum, all of whom missed last week’s game. This comes a couple weeks after the Vikings got their starting defensive tackles Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce back.
The Vikings are still not as healthy as they were earlier in the season, but last week was their low point of the season from an injury standpoint and they should play a lot better now that they are healthier. They have a significant talent edge over the Steelers, who remain without top cornerback Joe Haden and are now down to their third string left guard. Overall, I have the Vikings 5.5 points better in my roster rankings right now, with Bynum and Cook factored in as legitimately questionable, so we are getting a ton of line value with the Vikings as only 3-point home favorites, a line that suggests the Vikings are only barely better than the Steelers.
This is also a very tough spot for the Steelers, who have to come on the road and face an unfamiliar non-divisional and non-conference opponent on a short week, as underdogs. All-time, non-divisional road underdogs cover at just a 34.5% rate on Thursday Night Football when both teams are on short rest. Making matters worse for the Steelers, they are coming off of an emotional win over the Ravens.
Jim Harbaugh’s decision to go for two not only led to the Steelers’ victory, but also spared the Steelers from being in a near-impossible spot this week, as they would have had to play on a short week after an overtime game, a 16% all-time cover spot, but the Steelers’ defense was still on the field for 69 plays in a game that went down to the wire and, even if the game didn’t go to overtime, they figure to be the more tired of these two teams.
On top of that, teams cover at just a 43.3% rate all-time after a win as home underdogs of four points or more, as teams tend to find it tough to bring that same level of intensity two weeks in a row. I like the Vikings enough as a field goal favorites in this game that it would probably be my Pick of the Week if it was a weekend game, but I don’t like to make my Pick of the Week on Thursdays because these games can be weird sometimes and it’s possible I like a game this weekend more and, even if this isn’t my Pick of the Week, this is still a big play.
Minnesota Vikings 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 16
Pick against the spread: Minnesota -3