While Sunday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings isn’t the prototypical marquee NFL game, the fact that it will take place in London’s Wembley Stadium makes this can’t-miss television.
There has been talk about the league moving or expanding internationally to England, and Sunday’s potentially lackluster game will be the perfect gauge of how much the fans actually like American football.
This matchup has serious potential to be very ugly on the field—both Pittsburgh and Minnesota are 0-3 this season—but the league’s trip to London has fans genuinely excited about what could be a glimpse into the future.
When: Sunday, Sept. 29, at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Wembley Stadium, London, England
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Pittsburgh’s Biggest Key to Success: Le'Veon Bell, Running Back
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been atrocious on the ground this season—30th in the league with 51.7 yards rushing per game—but the team will get a much-needed boost when rookie Le'Veon Bell makes his NFL debut, per Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Bell was Pittsburgh’s second-round pick (48th overall) but has missed the first three weeks of the season while recovering from a Lisfranc sprain. He has practiced fully with the team this week and looks to play a major role on Sunday.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was critical of Bell this week, but that could be the culture of the Steelers organization showing the rookie some tough love. Pittsburgh needs serious help running the ball, and the elusiveness and speed of the talented runner will give the team the spark it needs.
If Roethlisberger can keep the defense spread out with a consistent pass attack to start the game, Bell has the inside power and outside speed to extend drives. As long as Bell touches the ball between 15-20 times Sunday, the Steelers will have a good chance to win.
Minnesota’s Biggest Key to Success: Matt Cassel, Quarterback
With quarterback Christian Ponder missing Sunday’s game while recovering from a rib injury, backup Matt Cassel will get a chance to take the starting job for the Minnesota Vikings, according to Tom Pelissero of the USA Today.
Ponder has been awful under center for the Vikings, leading the team to just 215.7 yards passing per game (ranked 23rd in the league). While the injury loses some of the chemistry the offense had built with the starter, Cassel now has the chance to steal the job permanently with a stellar performance.
Pittsburgh and the 22nd-ranked run defense will be stacking the box against Minnesota’s stud running back, Adrian Peterson, and that will leave windows in the secondary that Cassel should be able to capitalize on.
Sunday is Cassel’s chance to win the starting job outright. How he responds will depict the outcome of Sunday’s matchup.
No matter who is under center, the Minnesota Vikings were going to have a hard time passing the ball against Pittsburgh’s third-ranked pass defense. The task will be slightly easier with the focus shifting to stopping Peterson, but Minnesota won’t be able to keep up with the Steelers.
Pittsburgh’s offense will come alive in London.
Led by Roethlisberger, the recommitment to running the ball with Bell in the backfield will open up play action and help the Steelers move the ball down the field with the air attack.
Add in the recent return of tight end Heath Miller and the reemergence of Antonio Brown as the team’s top receiver, and Minnesota’s lackluster defense—28th against the pass and 21st against the rush—is in serious trouble.
Peterson will keep the Vikings in the game throughout the day, but Pittsburgh has too much talent to lose four games in a row. The Steelers will move to 1-3, and Minnesota will start the season 0-4.
Final Score: Pittsburgh 24, Minnesota 14