That title sounds funny to even say out loud, but I'd be lying if I said I had some genuine concerns about this weekend's Steeler opponent.
The Oakland Raiders, last-second victors in a 2009 matchup with the Steelers, come to Heinz Field on Sunday to face a Pittsburgh squad that's slowly earned the label of "injury-ravaged". After nine games, that's usually the case for many a team in the NFL, but it's becoming a pretty fair assessment of the Steelers as they sit right now.
Both offensive tackles are out for the season, and Aaron Smith is out for an extended duration. S Will Allen (concussion), DE Nick Eason (illness), DT Steve McLendon (illness), S Troy Polamalu (Achilles), CB Crezdon Butler (quadriceps) and LB Lawrence Timmons (hip) all sat on Thursday, and if they do go on Sunday, who knows how effective they'll be. DE Brett Keisel is nagged by a hamstring and has been limited in practice, so it sounds like he's not optimistic about Sunday. As an added bonus, WR Hines Ward is coming off a concussion last week against New England, and G Chris Kemoeatu sat out on Wednesday. Unless someone stubs their toe today, I think that's all of the walking wounded at the moment.
As for the on-field product, the Raiders are riding a three-game winning streak and rank 2nd in the NFL in rushing offense and pass defense. Those should prove to be two interesting matchups on Sunday, as the Steelers, despite their defensive problems, still lead the NFL in rushing defense, and Ben Roethlisberger leads the league in passing yardage in the weeks since his return.
Injury-wise, vaunted CB Nnamdi Asomugha is banged up and nursing an ankle injury, and the Raydahs will certainly need him to slow down Big Ben and Co. John Henderson, the mountain of a DT, is also questionable for Oakland on Sunday, as is WR Chaz Schillens. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring) and TE Zach Miller (foot) are also nursing boo-boos.
Looking a little deeper, the 5-4 Raiders have made some strides this season, but they have just one win (KC) over a team that holds a winning record at the moment, with wins over St. Louis, San Diego, Denver, and Seattle adding to their total. To boot, they've lost to some truly bad teams (San Fran, Arizona), and were blown out by the same Tennessee Titans in week one that the Steelers defeated on the road in week two.
But the Raiders are hot at the moment. They're coming off of an emotional win against a division rival last week. They're leading their division. Darren McFadden is finally looking like he's supposed to look, leading the NFL in rushing YPG at 108.1. They're a team the media wants to be relevant. And frankly, there are so many other train wrecks in the NFL (Dallas, Minnesota, Washington, etc) that Al Davis' team isn't at the top of the Laughing Stock Power Rankings at the moment.
Conversely, the Steelers are coming off a brutal stretch of three prime-time games that featured two losses, one of the embarrassing nature. They just cut ties with their longtime kicker in a story so big that it got the first six minutes of KDKA's evening news broadcast that night. They're in double-digit numbers on the injury report. People are jumping off the bandwagon. The vultures are circling. This one could be a true test of this team's character as we go through the stretch run of the season, and to be honest, I don't know how it's going to turn out.