Making predictions in the NFL is a hard thing to do. Especially if you gamble, as we've seen some heavy duty upsets this season. However, when it comes to the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1) and Minnesota Vikings (5 - 7), I'd say their records are just about what we all expected at this point in the season.
Head coach of the Steelers, Mike Tomlin is one of the best in the game. Proven by the fact that he has never had a losing season in 15 years as Pittsburgh's man in charge. That's absolutely amazing! But there's only so much the head coach can do. With Ben Roethlisberger pushing 40 years old, an often injured defense and a rookie running back with a brand new offensive line, what else could Tomlin do except coach the 53 man roster as hard as possible by having his team prepared to play ball Sunday afternoons. It's on the players to execute.
Mike Zimmer, who has been the Vikings head coach since 2014 has done a pretty good job with this franchise. They've got to the playoffs a few times and made a couple runs during the post season. In 2017 they were just a game away from going to the Super Bowl. Zimmer is a defensive minded coach and quite frankly Minnesota's defense is sub-par at best. Sure they've had injuries to key players but so has every other team. Klint Kubiak, who is just 34 years young, is the offensive coordinator for the Vikings and they usually hold up their end of the bargain with the explosive abilities of Justin Jefferson, Adam Theilen and Dalvin Cook. However, the offense is inconsistent.
So what we have here are two teams that you would think want to be in the playoffs but the play on the field would suggest otherwise at times. The Steelers only have a winning record because John Harbaugh made a terrible decision by going for the two-point conversion instead of heading into overtime. Pittsburgh nearly gave the Lions their first win but decided to tie them instead! It's actually a little mind boggling that the Steelers have won six games so far this season.
The Vikings did give the Lions their first win as that defense couldn't stop Jared Goff and company from getting into the end zone on the last play as time expired. The Vikings M.O. this season has been to keep it close late in the fourth quarter and just see what happens. I credit the fact that the Vikings play such tough, close games but I'm equally not impressed that they lose the majority of them. This is an absolute, maybe final chance for one of these teams to save their season. No cliche, its' a must win game!
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Neither team is playing good football right now. Despite the weapons on both teams on both sides of the ball, they've had a hard time putting together consistent wins. Does this fall on the coaching? Part of it does, absolutely! Are injuries an excuse? Nope! Every team has injuries and at least Minnesota and Pittsburgh have their starting quarterbacks under center. Is it the play calling? I would say yes on that one. The Steelers still can't find a consistent run game and the Vikings take too many shots down field when Cousins should be checking down for an 8 - 10 yard gain.
When you look at these rosters on paper you think that these teams should make the playoffs. But the game isn't played on paper. Injuries happen, players play hurt and teammates show up for each other. We know both teams want to win this game and the game after that and so on. But that possibility will happen for only one team unless Pittsburgh decides to tie again!
So who wins the game and why? Well first Dalvin Cook will be back tonight for the Vikings. Theilen is out but Jefferson is still there and nobody can guard this kid. He has quickly rose to top ten receivers in the league.....maybe even top 5! Expect to see more from Tight End Tyler Conklin who found the end zone last week. The Vikings will run the ball and use play action to keep the defense on their toes. Defensively the Vikings are getting healthy with Kendricks, Barr and Peterson all expected to play tonight. That's good news for Minnesota cause they need all the help they can get.
The Steelers will try to establish the run game early and I think it will work against this defense. Big Ben will be looking for Diontae Johnson all night as he's become the clear cut number one with JuJu out. Claypool is also a great deep threat and a big receiver who can make tough catches. But Safety Harrison Smith is one of the best in the game so keep your eye on him. We know T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward will be coming for Cousins so protection at the line will be key for Minnesota.
The game is won and lost at the line of scrimmage. Just ask the Bills and Patriots! So if the Steelers get a pass rush on Cousins then it will be a long night for that offense. But I think they will run the ball effectively which could void out the pass rush on play action. Again, the key is having protection for your quarterback and that goes for both teams. I believe the Vikings will keep their offense well balanced between the run and pass as well as trying to maintain ball control and tire down the Steelers defense. I can see Big Ben making a few bad throws that could turn the game around. If Najee Harris and the ground game doesn't show up for Pittsburgh tonight then the Steelers could a see a bunch of 3 and outs.
I do suspect a defensive touchdown or a big special teams play to swing the momentum of the game. In my opinion the Vikings will get those breaks and the crowd noise could be a contribuing factor on how Big Ben operates out of the huddle. I think Minnesota will have a nice rushing game and play good enough defense to get a close win. Prediction: Vikings 28 - Steelers 24