The Sports Xchange
Oakland Raiders (4-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4)
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at CBS – TV: CBS
*TV announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washington
*Keys to the game: There are few quarterbacks riding a hotter hand than Oakland’s Derek Carr, who has thrown 15 touchdowns against three interceptions with a 107.5 passer rating over his past six games. It helps that he has a solid ground game and has been sacked only 10 times all season. The Steelers’ defense is improving, including 18 sacks, and coordinator Keith Butler will attempt to throw confusing pressure packages at Carr. The pass rush better get home, because Pittsburgh ranks 26th in pass defense and does not have the coverage personnel to hold up against WRs Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree if Carr can step up in the pocket.
RB DeAngelo Williams was leading the AFC in rushing when Le’Veon Bell returned from his suspension in Week 3. Now Bell (knee) is done for the season and the bulk of the backfield load falls to Williams, who can pick up the rushing slack but isn’t quite the same versatile threat as a receiver. QB Ben Roethlisberger was spotty last week in his first game back from his own knee injury. With the Raiders allowing a whopping 302.1 passing yards per game, look for more no-huddle from coordinator Todd Haley. The Steelers averaged 7.7 yards on 19 snaps from the no-huddle last week compared to 5.3 for the game overall.
*Matchup to watch – Raiders RB Latavius Murray vs. Steelers SS Mike Mitchell: Murray has received 15-plus carries in all but two games this season – both losses – and is coming off his second 100-yard rushing effort of the season. Mitchell, Oakland’s second-round pick in 2009, has cleared the league’s concussion protocol and is one of the league’s biggest hitters.
*Player spotlight – Steelers DL Steve McLendon: The starting nose tackle since 2013, McLendon moved to end the past two weeks with Stephon Tuitt out with a knee injury. Tuitt has returned to limited practice, and the versatile McLendon will move back inside if Tuitt is able to play.
*Fast facts: Cooper leads NFL rookies in catches (38) and receiving yards (565). … The Steelers are 1-5 when Bell is not in the lineup. They went 0-3 when he was out with a foot injury as a rookie, loss last year’s wild card playoff game when he had a knee injury and were 1-1 when he was suspended to start this season.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Raiders are streaking and still looking for that signature road win, but the Steelers are a tough out at home and QB Ben Roethlisberger dices one of the league’s leakiest secondaries for a key win in the wild card picture.
*Our pick: Steelers 27-23.