Some franchises have the football gods on their side, whereas others must wonder what they’ve done to fall out of favor. After a 1-3 start, the Pittsburgh Steelers will host the 0-8 Detroit Lions at Heinz Field on Sunday. A win would see them improve to 6-3; good enough for a share of first place in the AFC North.
It requires more than luck to win four in a row, like the Steelers have done, so they deserve plenty of credit for their turnaround. Their defense continues to be solid, and they have the weapons on offense to overcome their struggling offensive line. However, they have benefitted as well from circumstances out of their control.
First, they narrowly escaped against the Bears on Monday night, due in part to some favorable calls. This is putting it lightly; some would say that the refs essentially cost the Bears the game. They received yet another gift on Thursday night, where their rivals the Baltimore Ravens, forgot how to play football and were upset by the Dolphins in Miami.
Favored by the gods
If this wasn’t opportunity enough, the Steelers were given the best possible matchup in which to seek their fifth straight win. The winless Lions come to town in what would appear to be as easy of a victory as there is in the NFL.
The Lions rank 25th in overall defense, so the Steelers should be able to score points. WR Chase Claypool is the only notable player ruled OUT for the Steelers, so they’ll be able to run out their full arsenal on Sunday. Expect to see big games from WR Diontae Johnson and TE phenom Pat Freiermuth. If Detroit can manage to put some pressure on Big Ben, his safety valve Najee Harris will reap the benefits.
The forgotten Lions
Unlike the Steelers’ good fortune, the Lions cannot catch a break. The first team ever to go 0-16 in an NFL season (2007) is now the first team with a legitimate chance to go 0-17. What could the Lions’ franchise have done to receive such ire from the gods?
Though it is not complete doom and gloom for Detroit. With Jamaal Williams ruled out, the brilliance of D’Andre Swift will be on full display. You can expect him to come to play, because he deserves to be noticed even if his team isn’t the least bit noteworthy.
Keys to the game
For the Steelers, they need to avoid looking past the Lions like the Ravens looked past the Dolphins. They need to treat it like a playoff game, because the tight AFC North race may leave 2 teams out of the playoffs when it’s all said and done. Pittsburgh needs to get Najee Harris going, and get Diontae Johnson into open space. Ben Roethlisberger also needs to be able to consistently find Pat Freiermuth in the red zone, and also on 3rd and 8. If the offense can get to 20 points, then TJ Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick will take care of the rest.
For the Lions, they need to take some chances. They need to show Pittsburgh they will attempt some deep passes. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see a breakout game from WR Amon-Ra St. Brown. The Steelers will need to be focused on TJ Hockenson, so perhaps St. Brown can beat some single coverage. Either way, if the Lions go run, run, pass, I see very minimal success from Jared Goff and the offense. They also need to play a perfectly disciplined game. They need to avoid 1st and 15, 2nd and 20, and 3rd and 12. Getting D’Andre Swift involved in a variety of ways can also help this offense score points. And if Goff strategically goes to TJ Hockenson, Then, it is possible for their defense to make some plays against that bad offensive line in Pittsburgh, and they can maybe pull of the upset.
It would be easier if the Lions were in tanking mode, but in spite of the fact they have yet to win, I can confirm they are still showing up to play. Ask the Vikings and Ravens if you need proof. Still, this should not be a hard game to call (which means I’ll be way off).
The Steelers take this one 27-13. It will be inexplicably close until a late game INT from Goff leads to a Najee Harris insurance touchdown. The Steelers good luck will continue, and the Lions will still look for that elusive first win.