Last week, Joe Kuzma - typically the prediction master - and I switched things up on the editorial schedule. It was my first shot this season in gazing into the crystal ball. And while Joe gave me permission to point out what he got wrong in Week 12, this week I have to point the finger at myself for all the swings and misses in Week 13. Some of my predictions were close, but more were shot full of holes the minute the Steelers took the field in the second half of the game. The crystal ball shattered, I've switched to the Magic 8-ball for Week 14's predictions as the Steelers travel to take on the Oakland Raiders.
Before I get into the predictions for the Steelers vs. Raiders, let's take a look at what I thought would happen last week. I'll start with the things that I got correct.
- Ben Roethlisberger would complete passes to at least five different teammates, throw for at least 250 yards and a touchdown: Big Ben did indeed throw to at least five different targets. In fact, he threw to nine. He threw for 281 yards and two touchdowns to one interception. That extended his franchise-record streak for consecutive games for at least 250 yards passing and one touchdown (passing).
- Defense limits Chargers to 100 or less rushing yards: The Steelers did their job in the first half, limiting Los Angeles to two net yards rushing. Things didn't go downhill until the second half when the defense allowed 83 yards on the ground. Still, add those two numbers up and the Chargers only gained 85 net rushing yards on 22 carries.
- Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster would combine for over 150 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns: The duo once again showed why they are two of the best in the NFL against the Chargers. Brown caught ten receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown. Smith-Schuster was a bit quieter in Week 13, catching six passes for 49 yards, but was held out of the end zone. This was a partially-correct prediction as the pair combined for 203 of the Steelers' 281 receiving yards on the night, but it was Jaylen Samuels who caught the second receiving touchdown - not Smith-Schuster.
I predicted that James Conner would get a little redemption against the Chargers after a relatively quiet game against the Broncos - at least in the run game. That was a "miss". I didn't anticipate Conner getting injured and being forced out of the game. Specific predictions:
- Conner will go over 100 yards from scrimmage (mixed between run and pass): Conner had 60 yards rushing on 15 attempts for two touchdowns.
- Conner would pass John "Frenchy" Fuqua and Merril Hoge for receptions by a Steelers running back (in a single season) by hitting the 55-catch mark: Conner added three receptions for 14 yards to make his single-season reception total 52. Fuqua hit the 49-reception mark in 1971. Hoge hit the 50-reception mark in 1988. So, Conner has passed both of those legendary Steelers running backs in that statistic (give me partial credit).
The remaining predictions:
- T.J. Watt would have a better game than Joey Bosa, including logging one more sack: Watt was kept quiet with just one tackle and zero sacks (he did get a QB hit). Meanwhile, Bosa had four tackles and 1.0 sacks. Here's hoping Watt bounces back!
- Big Ben would lead his team to victory, sending Philip Rivers packing with a loss, but that the game would be won by a score of more than three points but less than seven: Well, the Steelers lost but they lost by a field goal. So, I'm claiming a disappointing partial credit there also.
Putting Week 13 behind us, let's get right to rolling the dice on what the Steelers will do against the Raiders and look at being closer to hitting the mark.
Steelers defense adds to Derek Carr's 2018 sack total
Despite what brother David Carr said about Derek before the 2018 NFL season even kicked off (placing an elite status Top 5 tag on him over Roethlisberger - see Tweet below), the Steelers defense has to be licking its chops over the number of sacks the Raiders offensive line has allowed on their signal caller. Carr was sacked seven times by the San Francisco 49ers, six times by the Seattle Seahawks and has been put in the turf 38 times in 2018 for a loss of 214 yards. "We didn't get home enough," defensive end Cameron Heyward said this week about the game against the Chargers. "We gotta get our hands up. Our execution has to be flawless no matter who's out there." Prediction: The Steelers add at least three sacks to Carr's 2018 total on Sunday. (Keep an eye on Heyward!) Per Brian here at SCU, the Steelers will get five. Five! (I'm going a bit more conservative, but still optimistic).
1. Carson Wentz, IF HEALTHY to start the season is a top 10 QB, hands down.
2. Ben isn’t in the top 10. I get it. Sorry.
3. Derek is a top 5 QB. Stay Tuned.
(Yes I know he’s my brother)#WhenYouMakeAListYouCanPutYourFavortiteQBWhereverYouWant https://t.co/70KX26Whr7
— David Carr (@DCarr8) June 25, 2018
Steelers' rushing committee will earn more yards than Raiders'
Pittsburgh and Oakland are both in a run-by-committee mode; the Steelers after James Conner suffered an ankle injury after being the team's workhorse for the majority of the season and the Raiders after losing Marshawn Lynch to injured/reserved (and not being reactivated and unable to play again in 2018). The Steelers have Jaylen Samuels, Stevan Ridley and recently-activated Trey Edmunds (brother to Terrell Edmunds). The Raiders have Jalen Richard, Doug Martin, DeAndre Washington, and newly acquired C.J. Anderson.
Richard and Washington are expected to be the primary backs for Oakland since Anderson has just joined the team. Why not Martin? He isn't yet 100 percent per head coach Jon Gruden due to a knee injury. That isn't to say he won't be suited up on Sunday. Richard had the best game of his career last weekend (6 carries for 95 yards, 3 receptions for 31 yards), but still didn't find the end zone. It wouldn't be a shock to see Anderson thrown into the mix, but in their past two games, the Raiders have just two rushing touchdowns on 238 yards. The Steelers? 140 yards and two touchdowns.
Prediction: It's bold, but I believe the Steelers flip the script and out-rush Oakland. Prediction 2: The Steelers earn at least one rushing touchdown. Prediction 3: Samuels earns a minimum of 40 yards in the ground game alone.
Ryan Switzer distinguishes himself as WR3
We all know that Brown and Smith-Schuster have established themselves in the Steelers offense, but one surprise has been how well Switzer has acclimated in Pittsburgh. Not only has he proved to be a nice addition on special teams, but after the hard lick he took last weekend, Switzer has a ton of guts. I expect he'll come on strong again this week. Prediction: Switzer distinguishes himself as the Steelers' WR3 behind Brown and Smith-Schuster. Watch the stats sheets, fans.
Steelers win the turnover game
Carr has looked sharper the last couple weeks, but the Steelers are prime for a turnover. And I mean a big-time turnover. Carr is behind two rookie starting tackles on the offensive line, so he's using more underneath routes, especially to Jared Cook. Keith Butler got burned by allowing his linebackers to match up against too many receivers in the middle of the field last week and I expect him to make adjustments, especially if Morgan Burnett gets back onto the field. Prediction: Steelers get more turnovers (by interception, fumble or strip-sack) than the Raiders in Week 14. Prediction 2: At least one turnover will be an interception.
Offensive line keeps Big Ben clean and firing
Pittsburgh's offensive line is overlooked - a lot. They shouldn't be. Tahir Whitehead is a great run-stopper, but he's not going to be producing the pressure on Roethlisberger that the Raiders really need to be disruptive. The Raiders only have ten sacks on the season. Maurice Hurst is their three-technique guy, but he'll be facing Alejandro Villanueva who has had a solid season this year. Prediction: The O-line allows zero sacks on the game and gives Roethlisberger all the time he needs to run the offense.
The Steelers need this win. They need it badly. The only way I see them not walking out of the Coliseum as victors is if they have a complete meltdown on offense and defense, and my Magic 8-ball just said, "Ain't Happening", so I'm going to have to have some faith this weekend. The Raiders look horrible on paper, they've looked terrible on the field, but every week in the NFL there has been some unlikely underdog that has sniffed out a fire-hydrant type relief valve. Not this week - not these Raiders. Go Steelers!