Tim Benz: Steelers' playoff fate might come down to Oakland trip ... again
By now, you probably have seen a horrifying statistic or two, or three or four about the Steelers’ recent track record against the Oakland Raiders.
The usually bad Oakland Raiders.
Many of those numbers trace back to visits out to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Often, the name “Black Hole” has an especially negative connotation for the Black and Gold.
The Steelers’ trip Sunday to Oakland follows a recent trend of games against the Raiders. A Steelers team on the playoff bubble (7-4-1) is getting set to play a Raiders squad (2-10) expected to finish with one of the worst records in the NFL.
That was the case in 2012 and 2013 when 8-8 Steelers outfits lost road games to 4-12 editions of the Silver and Black.
In 2009, Mike Tomlin’s defending Super Bowl championship team finished 9-7 with a loss to a 5-11 edition of the Raiders at Heinz Field. And in Bill Cowher’s final season in 2006, another 8-8 Steelers team dropped a 20-13 decision to Art Shell’s 2-14 club on the road.
“The environment. The team. The travel. A little bit of everything,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said of the complications of playing in Oakland. “The venue. Those fans. It’s not an easy place to play. What an awesome challenge for us.”
The 2009 and ‘13 Pittsburgh squads would’ve made the playoffs if they had beaten those dreadful Oakland teams. This rendition of the Steelers may find itself saying the same thing if it drops to 7-5-1 Sunday.
“Every game is very critical,” defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “We have to get this win. I look forward to stopping them.”
That failed to occur in 2013, as the defensive captain distinctly recalls.
“I remember Terrelle Pryor going for the longest touchdown run (93 yards) in Oakland history,” Heyward said, shaking his head. “We were playing catch-up most of the game. You can’t do that on the road.”
Indeed. That put the Raiders ahead 19 seconds into the game. They won 21-18. Conversely, the season before, the Steelers blew a 10-point lead to fall 34-31.
Roethlisberger has had some bad times in Oakland. He’s 0-3 there, losing in 2006, 2012 and 2013. In the 2006 and ‘13 trips, he combined to throw only two touchdowns — and six interceptions. He also absorbed 10 sacks.
The numbers are even worse if you are a gambler who likes to throw a few bucks on the Steelers. Keep in mind that — despite all this bad history — the Steelers were a 10-point favorite Sunday at the time this was written.
Check out these numbers from CBS Sports.
• In general, the Steelers stink when they’ve played in the Pacific time zone, winning just twice in their last 10 trips out west against the spread — and straight up.
• In the Roethlisberger era, the Steelers have covered the spread against Oakland just once in eight tries.
• In Roethlisberger’s career, the Steelers have been favored by 10 or more points a total of 10 times on the road. They’ve covered once.
Aside from that, there’s nothing to worry about, I guess.
In the 17 full seasons since Heinz Field opened, the Steelers have missed the playoffs only five times. Four of those seasons have had the pockmark of a loss to a sub-.500 Raiders team.
With games against the Patriots and Saints remaining on the schedule, I’d expect that trend will continue if the Steelers lose out in California again on Sunday.
I don’t see that loss happening. But I would suggest you avoid betting your Christmas bonus on the Steelers covering that point spread.
Or else, it’ll be the “Jelly of the Month Club” for you, Mr. Griswold.
Steelers win ugly, 23-21.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.