Week 14 takes to one of the most electric atmospheres in the NFL with U.S. Bank Stadium as the venue in a primetime tilt between the Steelers and Vikings. Pittsburgh sits at 6-5-1 in a tightly packed AFC conference as Minnesota seems to be on the outside looking in with a record of 5-7, which is quite unfortunate as 11 of the team’s 12 games this season have been decided by one possession.
This past Sunday the Vikings were victims of arguably one of the largest upsets of the season (maybe the Jaguars beating the Bills trumps this) when the winless Lions marched down the field for a walk-off game-winning touchdown as time expired in regulation. It marked the 7th loss this season that has come by 8 points or fewer making Minnesota the sole leader for most one-possession losses in the league.
The grass is certainly greener on the other side as the Steelers are 6-1-1 in one-possession games this season (tied for the most such wins in the league). It really doesn’t take a football aficionado to predict this contest to be a one-possession game down the stretch, but the defenses for both squads look concerning.
The Steelers have had a tale of two seasons allowing 305.8 total YPG last season compared to 364.1 total YPG allowed this season.
One thing that has stayed consistent for this Steeler defense has been DPOY candidate T.J. Watt who is on pace to be the 3rd player to lead the NFL in sacks in 2 straight seasons (Reggie White in 1987-88, Mark Gastineau in 1983-84). Watt has a league-best 16 sacks through 10 games and has been a game wrecker for the defensive line.
Watt’s presence has been felt and it comes by no surprise that a majority of the drop-off for Pittsburgh’s defense has come from the secondary surrendering 233.2 pass YPG allowed this season compared to only 194.4 pass YPG allowed last season.
This should work in favor of Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson who is coming off a career-high 182 receiving yard performance, however, Minnesota may not shy away from Alexander Mattison, who has thrived in the absence of RB Dalvin Cook. Through 3 games as a starter, Mattison has racked up 29.7 touches/game, 149.3 scrimmage YPG, 5.0 yds/touch, and two touchdowns.
The Vikings will need all the help they can get, especially with WR Adam Thielen ruled out with an ankle injury, which will allow the Steelers defense to have star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick shadow Jefferson and limit those vertical routes.
Minnesota’s defense will also face an uphill battle as the team has allowed 400+ total yards in 4 games since Week 8 (most in NFL in that span). That gives Ben Roethlisberger and this Steelers offense some much-needed breathing room on offense. Expect Mike Tomlin to not shy away from dialing up some big plays down the field for Chase Claypool and finding a way to get the ball in Dionte Johnson’s hands, who faces a favorable fantasy matchup against a Vikings’ secondary allowing the most fantasy PPG to WRs over the last 4 weeks.
Ultimately, the Steelers defense looks to be getting back into rhythm at the right time and Roethlisberger is playing well enough for this team to squeeze out a win in a tight playoff race.