Las Vegas Raiders (6-8) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8)
Both of these teams got off to slow starts to the season, with the Raiders starting 2-7 and the Steelers starting 2-6, but both teams have had more success in the win/loss column in recent weeks, pushing both teams up to a record of 6-8, still technically on the fringes of playoff contention. Neither team’s turnaround is all that surprising though. For the Raiders, their biggest problem early in the season was close losses, as all but one of their losses during their 2-7 start came by just one-score, with the Raiders going 0-6 in one-score games over that stretch.
The Raiders have continued playing a lot of close games in recent weeks, with each of their past five games since their 2-7 start being decided by one-score, but the Raiders have had more success in those games, winning four of five. Part of it is they’ve gotten healthier, with top cornerback Nate Hobbs (6 games missed) and top linebacker Denzel Perryman (3 games missed) returning a few weeks ago and two of their top offensive weapons Darren Waller (8 games missed) and Hunter Renfrow (7 games missed) returning last week, but a team’s record in close games tends to even out in the long run anyway.
For the Steelers, their biggest problem early in the season was their strength of schedule, with six of their eight opponents during their 2-6 start entering this week with a .500 record or better, including five teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. In their last six games, they have faced four opponents with losing records and have won all four, while losing to both teams they have faced with winning records over that span. The Steelers have also benefited from having more talent healthy and on the field in recent weeks as well, specifically the return of reigning Defensive Player of the Year TJ Watt from injury, after he missed 7 games early in the season.
Overall, I have the Raiders as the slightly better team in my roster rankings, which is not surprising when you consider that the Raiders have three wins against teams that are .500 or better, while the Steelers have just one. With the Raiders being the slightly better team, we’re getting a little bit of line value with them as 2.5-point road underdogs, as this line suggests that the Steelers are the slightly better team, given that home teams have won by an average of 1.5-2 points over the past few seasons. My calculated line is even and, while I would need this line to move up to a full field goal to be worth betting, the Raiders should be considered about 50/50 to win this game, so the money line is a good value at +120.
Las Vegas Raiders 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Upset Pick +120
Pick against the spread: Las Vegas +2.5