Thursday Night Football Week 14 Preview and Prediction: Minnesota Vikings vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Gretch is back previewing and predicting Week 14's Thursday Night Football matchup between the Minnesota Vikings vs. Pittsburgh Steelers.
Ben Gretch |
Wed, December 8, 5:15 PM EST | 4 min read
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Thursday Night Football Week 14 Preview and Prediction: Minnesota Vikings vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Minnesota Vikings vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Start Time, Where to Watch, and Odds

Date: Thursday, December 9, 2021

Game Time: 8:20 pm ET

Where to Watch: FOX/NFL Network

  • Key Stat: Pittsburgh ranks 31st in pace (seconds per snap) in the first halves of games but is the fastest-paced offense in the NFL in second halves, per Football Outsiders

Click Here For Vikings vs. Steelers Odds

Minnesota Vikings vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Preview

Pittsburgh heads to Minnesota as 3.5-point road underdogs in a game with a low over/under of 43.5. If you've been following my writeups this year, you know we've been making a killing on unders over the past several weeks, with an 11-2 record over the past five weeks propelling a 15-6 mark on unders for the season.

But the conditions that have led to so many under-bets are starting to get baked into the lines, and we're headed toward the later part of the season where the weather becomes a factor. Except that's not the case here — Minnesota offers a dome atmosphere, and we have a close line between two teams fighting for their playoff lives that are ostensibly defense-minded but can definitely speed things up offensively when needed.

Vikings vs. Steelers Over/Under Movement

Close games are ideal for a higher-scoring atmosphere, as a back-and-forth, pass-happy atmosphere can develop. Both head coaches in this game, Mike Zimmer and Mike Tomlin, have that air of low-scoring games about them, but that's not how things have played out for either team recently. The Vikings have played five straight games that have hit 47 or more total points, including four that have gone over 55. Pittsburgh is coming off a 20-19 win over Baltimore last week that stayed reasonably low scoring, but three of their four before that had gone over 50 points.

The Steelers' win over the Ravens last week is especially interesting because while it wound up totaling just 39 points, there were 29 points scored in the second half. The first half was slow primarily due to a 16-play, 99-yard touchdown drive by Baltimore that took up more than 10 minutes of game time. Pittsburgh had started slowly by earning just one first down and settling for three punts on their first three drives. When they got the ball back after the Ravens' long touchdown drive, the game was inside the two-minute warning of the first half, and Pittsburgh had run an egregiously low ten offensive plays.

But Pittsburgh played fast in their final drive of the first half and especially into the second half, with a pass-friendly style that led to opinions this week; they need to embrace an offensive style built around Ben Roethlisberger. That's notable because Pittsburgh has been the second-slowest offense in terms of seconds per snap in the first halves of games this year, but the single fastest one in second halves, meaning this isn't the first time they've played at a snail's pace early and picked up the tempo late. And coming off this win, they seem far more likely to let the second-half style bleed into the first half than the other way around.

Minnesota, meanwhile, has been a faster-paced offense than one might expect in their own right. They sit seventh in the league in seconds per snap (Pittsburgh is 12th overall) and are a respectable 10th in the second halves of games. The Vikings will be without Adam Thielen in this one, but that might be less of a loss than it immediately seems, as Justin Jefferson has staked his claim as the wide receiver that draws the most coverage and is good enough to have excelled through it. Certainly, that lack of a consistent weapon in Thielen, who Kirk Cousins is known to go to in big spots like third downs and in the red zone, is not ideal. But No. 3 wide receiver K.J. Osborn has played well at times this year, as has tight end Tyler Conklin, and I expect both to see increased targets in this one to account for the loss of Thielen.

Both of these teams are fighting for their playoff lives, and both have shown a clear tendency to get aggressive when in close games or especially when trailing in the second halves. While there may be some offensive efficiency concerns — for the Vikings, due to the loss of Thielen, and for the Steelers, due to their struggles all year with Roethlisberger looking his age — I'm expecting these teams to throw more than otherwise might be expected, especially into the second half. With that low over/under of just 43.5 points, I'm on the over.

Vikings vs. Steelers Pick

Ben Gretch
@YardsPerGretch

Ben knows his football. A fantasy football expert who was most recently seen at CBS Sports, he'll be helping bettors find value ahead in the NFL with OddsChecker.

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