This isn’t exactly what the NFL had in mind when they scheduled the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings as their showcase game in London this season.
A battle of 0-3 teams going nowhere this season, this London game more resembles a comedy than a meaningful football game.
Since the NFL adopted a 16-game regular-season schedule 35 years ago, less than 4 percent of teams that lost their first three games have qualified for the playoffs.
No team has made the playoffs after an 0-3 start since Buffalo in 1998, and only five of the 161 clubs to lose three straight to open a season since 1978 have reached the postseason.
Only San Diego in 1992 began a season 0-4 and still made the playoffs.
Are one of these teams ready to turn things around and make a charge at the playoffs?
Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about Sunday’s matchup.
When: Sunday, September 29 at 1:00 pm EST
Where: Wembley Stadium, London, ENG
Live Stream: NFL.com Live Stream
Spread: Steelers -2.5
Rankings: Steelers- Offense (28th), Defense (fifth); Vikings- Offense (20th), Defense (28th)
Last Meeting: 2009, Steelers 27-17 at Heinz Field
All-Time Series: Tied 7-7
Keys for Steelers:
1. Create Turnovers: During Sunday’s loss to the Chicago Bears, the Steelers defense once again failed to create a turnover. If you are scoring at home, that’s no turnovers created through three games. With all of the criticism of the offense, you can’t win consistently when you don’t make big plays defensively and can’t get off the field on third down.
Minnesota is second behind the Giants with 10 giveaways, committing at least three turnovers in each contest. Veteran Matt Cassel will be under center for the Vikings in place of the injured Christian Ponder. The nine-year veteran had a league-worst 66.7 passer rating last season as he played nine games for Kansas City, throwing for six touchdowns and 12 interceptions. There should be an opportunity for this defense to make plays.
2. Protect Ben Roethlisberger: The Steelers offense line allowed only two sacks last week, but Big Ben was under pressure all night and once again took a beating. They won’t win that way. They have to keep Roethlisberger upright and allow him to make plays.
The Steelers racked up 459 yards of total offense — their most in a game since 2009 — after totaling 472 in their first two contests. Antonio Brown caught nine passes for a career-best 196 yards and both of Roethlisberger’s touchdown throws. Big Ben finished 26 of 41 for 406 yards, but his turnovers played a huge role in Pittsburgh now being on the verge of its first 0-4 start since 1968.
They must protect the football as almost all of their turnovers have come as a result of Roethlisberger being under too much pressure. Their minus-nine turnover margin is tied with the Giants for the worst in the league. That has to change today.
3. Ring the Bell: The Steelers ground game has been horrific, but should get a boost with the debut of rookie Le’Veon Bell. Minnesota ranks 21st in run defense, allowing 114.0 yards per game, while the Steelers average an AFC-worst 51.7 yards rushing per game.
Todd Haley knows he won’t get much from the other Steelers backs, so it would make sense to give Bell a heavy dose on Sunday to take some pressure off of Roethlisberger.