The Vikings (6-6 ATS) are a 3-point favorite over the Steelers (5-7 ATS) on the NFL odds board at many of BMR’s top-rated sportsbooks. Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer is 21-11 ATS in non-conference games, the second-best record in the NFL since 2014. The Vikings beat Green Bay 34-31 in their only home game since November. Can Pittsburgh pull off what is technically considered another upset?
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Minnesota Vikings
Thursday, December 09, 2021 – 08:20 PM EST at U.S. Bank Stadium
The Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1) and Minnesota Vikings (5-7) are the only teams in the NFL this season that can say they were not able to beat the Detroit Lions. Despite that fact, this can be a very entertaining Thursday night game between teams who have played a ton of close contests this season, and two teams who cannot afford to lose any more games if they want to make the playoffs.
Pittsburgh: Ready for a Shootout?
The Vikings are a worthy offensive opponent, so the Steelers are likely going to have to score at least 23 points in this matchup to win. Pittsburgh and Seattle are the only offenses in the league this year to not have any games with 400 yards of offense. The offensive line has not been cohesive or talented enough for the Steelers to just take over games anymore.
The Steelers get by with being good on third down (top 10 unit) and limiting turnovers. Ben Roethlisberger’s only interceptions in his last seven games were the two he threw in Cincinnati in Week 12, a terrible showing all around for the team in a 41-10 loss. The Steelers played a much cleaner, turnover-free game against the Ravens on Sunday, winning 20-19 after scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter.
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Roethlisberger has developed a stronger connection with Diontae Johnson in his third season, and he had his third 100-yard game of the season on Sunday. The Vikings just allowed a struggling Jared Goff with arguably the worst receiving corps in the NFL to throw for 296 yards and three touchdowns. This is also the same defense that allowed Dallas backup Cooper Rush to pass for over 300 yards in a win for the Cowboys.
Roethlisberger has some other capable weapons in Chase Claypool, running back Najee Harris, and rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth. While the Vikings get a lot of sacks as a unit, they still allow 7.8 yards per pass attempt this season (ranked 28th). The Vikings also rank 20th in points per drive allowed and are one of the worst defenses in the red zone.
Both defenses are at the bottom of the league in rushing yards per carry allowed (4.8). The Steelers may want to use their wideouts on a few runs plays like how the 49ers gashed Minnesota with Deebo Samuel two weeks ago. Harris does not have a run longer than 20 yards this season for Pittsburgh, but receivers Johnson and Claypool each have a 25-yard run.
Vikings: Same Old Story
The Vikings are the only team to lead by at least six points in every game this season, yet the team is 5-7 and ranked ninth in the NFC. Minnesota just does not finish enough close games, and the defense has really been the biggest problem area this season.
Kirk Cousins and the offense have been mostly fine. Adam Thielen left the game early on Sunday with a high ankle sprain, and Cousins still passed for 340 yards, including a career-high 182 yards to the outstanding Justin Jefferson.
Running back Dalvin Cook was out injured and will be out again on Thursday, but Alexander Mattison had a touchdown and 124 yards from scrimmage in his place against Detroit. Mattison has another good matchup here with a Pittsburgh team that has struggled mightily to stop the run this season.
But the success of the offense is still likely to come down to Cousins. The Vikings are 0-5 this season when he averages under 3.9 air yards per completion, which is when he’s not aggressive and starts throwing checkdowns that stall drives. Cousins has some phenomenal numbers on the season, including 25 touchdowns to three interceptions, but advanced stats are less thrilled with his failed completions and untimely strip-sacks.
The Steelers just sacked Lamar Jackson seven times and have been a threat at doing that all year with T.J. Watt (16 sacks in 10 games) leading the way. The Lions were able to sack Cousins three times, which is only the second time this season he took three sacks in a game.
If Thielen is unable to go with that high ankle sprain on a short week, it should make the Steelers pay extra special attention to Jefferson. Pittsburgh has been burned by four 100-yard receivers in 2021, but the defense has kept some No. 1 options contained, including Stefon Diggs (69 yards), Davante Adams (64), D.K. Metcalf (58), Darren Waller (65), and Marquise Brown (55).
These are unfamiliar opponents on a short week. Home teams have lost six of the last seven Thursday games against non-conference opponents. Minnesota has played nine straight games decided by eight or fewer points, a new franchise record. Only 14 teams in NFL history have played at least 10 straight games.
On the other hand, seven of Pittsburgh’s last eight games have been decided by no more than eight points, including a tie with the Lions. These teams deserve each other.
This will likely come down to the wire again. The Steelers are 6-1-1 in close games this season as defined by being within one score in the fourth quarter. The Vikings are 3-7 and have blown four fourth-quarter leads, tied with Detroit for the lead league. I like the Steelers as a better finishing team on both sides of the ball to get the job done in this one for your NFL picks to kick off Week 14.
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