Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Thursday edition of the Pick Six Newsletter!
I know it hasn't been a fun season for Lions fans, but you should have a lot of fun watching tonight's game and that's because it's going to feature the two teams in the NFL that the Lions are UNDEFEATED against this year. The Lions are 1-0-1 against the Steelers and Vikings but 0-10 against everyone else. I'm not sure what that says about the Steelers and Vikings, but whatever it says, it can't be good.
Obviously, we'll be taking a close look at that game in today's newsletter. We'll also be taking a close look at the MVP race, although maybe we shouldn't take a close look at that race because it is a jumbled mess right now. There are only five weeks left in the season and I still have no idea who the favorite is.
As always, here's your weekly reminder to tell all your friends to sign up for the Pick Six newsletter. To get your friends to sign up, all you have to do is click here and then share this link with them.
1. Today's show: Steelers-Vikings betting preview
If you're planning on betting any money on tonight's game, then you're going to want to make sure to listen to today's episode of the podcast before you place any bets. For today's show, Will Brinson brought on CBSSports writer Tyler Sullivan, and the two went into full gambling mode.
Here are several props they like for the game:
- Justin Jefferson OVER 92.5 receiving yards (-115). The Vikings receiver has gone over this total in three of his past four games, and if that's not enough to convince you to take this prop, maybe this will help: He's averaging 144.25 yards per game over the past four weeks, and with Adam Thielen out Thursday night, he might even top THAT number.
- Kirk Cousins OVER 22.5 completions (-125). Cousins has gone over this total in six of Minnesota's past eight games, and if you combine that with the fact that he'll be going up against a Steelers defense that surrenders more than 230 pass yards per game, it wouldn't be surprising at all to see him air it out with 23 or more completions.
- Chase Claypool OVER 51.5 receiving yards (-115). Not only has Claypool gone over this total in three straight games, but he's averaging 22.7 yards PER CATCH in those games. Basically, Claypool has regularly been coming up with big plays for the Steelers and because of that, it might take him just two or three receptions to hit the over.
- Long-shot prop: Pat Freiermuth scores first TD (+1200). When the Steelers get in the red zone, there's no one Ben Roethlisberger likes targeting more than his rookie tight end. Freiermuth has a total of FIVE touchdowns in Pittsburgh's past six games, so it won't be a total shock if he adds another one tonight. Although +1200 is great value here, if you don't like taking that kind of risk, you can also bet him at +200 to score a TD at any point in the game.
For more props and their actual predictions for tonight's game, be sure to click here so you can listen to today's episode. If you'd rather watch today's show, you can now do that on YouTube by clicking here!
2. Thursday night preview: Prepping you for Steelers at Vikings
It's almost fitting these two teams are playing each other just four days after the Vikings' loss to the Lions, and that's because this game is a battle of the only two teams who played the Lions this year but DIDN'T WIN.
As far as staying in the playoff race goes, this is a monstrous game that both teams need to win. The Steelers are currently the eighth seed in the AFC with a record of 6-5-1, while the Vikings are the ninth seed in the NFC with a record of 5-7.
My good buddy Jared Dubin put together our deep-dive preview for this game at CBS Sports, and here's how he sees it playing out:
- Why the Steelers can win: The Vikings are 0-4 this season when surrendering more than 140 rushing yards, so that seems like a pretty easy path to success for the Steelers: If they can run the ball well, they should be able to win the game. Running on Minnesota isn't usually easy, but it has been over the past five weeks as the Vikings have surrendered an average of 146.4 yards per game since Week 9. If Najee Harris has a big game, the Steelers should be able to escape Minnesota with a win.
- Why the Vikings can win: If you've ever watched a primetime game involving Kirk Cousins, you may have noticed that it doesn't usually turn out so well for Cousins, who regularly struggles in night games. (He's 1-4 in his past five primetime games.) That's going to have to change this week if the Vikings want to win. With Dalvin Cook banged up (but still potentially playing) and left tackle Christian Darrisaw out, it's going to be up to Cousins to carry the offense. The Steelers' banged-up secondary will likely have trouble covering Justin Jefferson, and if he combines with Cousins to have a big game, that might be enough to help the Vikings earn the win.
You can get a full preview of the game from Dubin by clicking here. The Vikings are currently favored by 3 points.
Dubin's pick: Vikings 23-17 over Steelers.
My pick: Vikings 23-20 over Steelers.
If you're thinking about betting on the game, Tyler Sullivan put together a full gambling preview.
- ONE PROP TYLER LIKES: Najee Harris OVER 70.5 rushing yards (-115): "Since the Steelers' bye in Week 7, Harris has averaged over 19 carries per game. If he continues to see that kind of action, he'd only have to average just over 3.7 yards per carry to hit the over. Harris will also be facing a Vikings run defense that has allowed 154 rushing yards per game over the last two weeks."
- ONE PROP I LIKE: Greg Joseph OVER 6.5 kicking points (-120): Not many teams in the NFL love kicking field goals more than the Minnesota Vikings, and I don't expect that to change tonight. Joseph has attempted 28 field goals on the season, which is the fourth highest number in the NFL. Also, he's gone over this total in seven of Minnesota's past eight games and nine out of 12 on the season.
3. MVP watch: Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers headline our leaderboard
With just five weeks to go in the regular season, you'd think there'd be a frontrunner for the MVP this year, but that simply hasn't happened. Since no one seems to know who's going to win MVP this year, our Jared Dubin rounded up nine writers here at CBSSports.com and we voted on who the MVP of the season is so far.
Here's how the ballot worked: Each writer was allowed to vote for five players by ranking them one through five. Our ballot was slightly different from how it's actually done. In the actual MVP vote, each voter only gets to vote for one player.
Anyway, if you need proof of just how crazy the MVP race is right now, just look at the results of our voting. There were 11 different players and five different positions that received votes. In the end, though, there are two familiar names at the top of our leaderboard.
Here's a look at how our voting broke down, along with each player's point total. (A first-place vote was worth five points, a second-place vote was worth four points, and so on.)
1. Buccaneers QB Tom Brady (37)
2. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (34)
3. Cardinals QB Kyler Murray (23)
4. Colts RB Jonathan Taylor (16)
T-5. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (8)
T-5. Steelers DE T.J. Watt (8)
7. Bills QB Josh Allen (4)
8. Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (2)
T-9. 49ers Total Freak Deebo Samuel (1)
T-9. Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs (1)
T-9. Rams WR Cooper Kupp (1)
If you want to check out all the details from our latest round of MVP voting, then be sure to click here.
4. Titans and Packers have easiest remaining strength of schedules
With the playoff race such a jumbled mess right now, it's almost impossible to predict who's going to make the postseason this year. One way to make an educated guess though is to look at the remaining schedule for each playoff contender. For instance, although the Titans seem to be in a free fall with two straight losses, I'd still bet on them to make the playoffs and that's because they have the easiest remaining schedule.
Over their final five games, the Titans get to play both the Texans and the Jaguars. If Tennessee just wins both of those games, the Colts would have to go 4-0 over their final four games to win the division. The Titans just need to go 3-2 over the final five weeks to lock up the division.
Here's a look at the five teams with the easiest remaining schedules:
On the other end of the spectrum, the Browns and Ravens are tied for the most-difficult remaining schedule in the NFL, which means it won't be surprising at all if the AFC North race goes down to the wire. The Bengals have the easiest remaining schedule of any AFC North team, but that doesn't mean much, because it's still tied for the fifth-most difficult in the NFL.
Here's a look at the five teams with the most-difficult remaining schedules:
T-1. Browns (.608)
T-1. Ravens (.608)
T-3. Panthers (.583)
T-3. Steelers (.583)
T-5. Lions (.567)
T-5. Bengals (.567)
The Steelers are the only AFC North team that has a game left against a team that's currently under .500, and that game will be tonight against the Vikings.
5. Ranking the Steelers' top-seven QB possibilities for 2022
Last weekend, it was reported that Ben Roethlisberger likely won't be returning to Pittsburgh in 2022, which means the Steelers are going to need a new quarterback. With Big Ben getting set to play tonight, we thought now would be the perfect time to rank the Steelers' seven best options for next season.
This ranking was put together by CBSSports.com's Bryan DeArdo, and I'm not sure if it was a ranking or his own personal wish list (DeArdo is a noted Steelers homer).
Without further ado, here's the list along with who the person on the list currently plays for:
1. Aaron Rodgers (Packers QB)
2. Kenny Pickett (Pitt QB)
3. Russell Wilson (Seahawk QB)
4. Matt Corral (Ole Miss QB)
5. Malik Willis (Liberty QB)
6. Mason Rudolph (Steelers backup QB)
7. Carson Strong (Nevada QB)
As you can see, DeArdo mixed in a solid variety of veterans the Steelers should go after along with quarterbacks they might consider in the draft. If you want to read his explanation for why Pittsburgh should go after each quarterback, then be sure to click here.
6. Rapid-fire roundup
It's been a busy 24 hours in the NFL, and since it's nearly impossible to keep track of everything that happened, I went ahead and put together a roundup for you.
- Justin Fields to start for Bears. After missing Chicago's last two games with a rib injury, Justin Fields is finally ready to return to the field. Bears coach Matt Nagy has announced that the rookie will be the team's starting quarterback for Chicago's Sunday night showdown with the Packers.
- Giants might be forced to start Jake Fromm. The Giants could be down to their third-string QB this weekend. Daniel Jones is almost certainly out due to a neck injury, and although Mike Glennon would usually be the backup, he also might not be able to play due to a concussion, which could set the stage for Fromm to get his first-career start. For more on Fromm, be sure to click here.
- Raiders specialists land huge extensions. The Raiders handed out a pair of huge contracts Wednesday night. Kicker Daniel Carlson was given a four-year, $18.4 million extension that makes him the third-highest paid kicker in the league. Punter A.J. Cole also landed a huge deal, signing a four-year, $12.4 million deal that makes him the fifth-highest paid punter in the NFL.
- Mark Ingram placed on COVID list. It's a good thing the Saints are expecting to get Alvin Kamara back this week, because they're likely not going to have Mark Ingram for Sunday's game against the Jets. Ingram has been placed on the COVID list and will only be able to play if he records two negative tests that are taken at least 24 hours apart.
- Mike Williams and Chris Harris on COVID list. The Chargers have already placed Keenan Allen on the COVID list, and now they've added two more names. The good news for L.A. is that both guys are only close contacts, which means they'll be allowed to play Sunday against the Giants as long as they test negative for COVID this week.
- Former Bills specialist Mark Pike passes away at age 57. During his 13-year career, Pike was a special teams ace for the Bills who regularly made a big impact on the field. During his time in Buffalo, the Bills made it to four straight Super Bowls and Pike was a huge part of what they did on special teams. He retired with 255 career tackles on special teams, which is the most in franchise history. Pike passed away due to Non-Hodgkins lymphoma.