It's the most wonderful time of the year.
The Las Vegas Raiders prepare to travel up north for a Christmas Eve clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The two teams will play in the Holiday Classic to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1972 AFC Divisional playoff game – coined the "Immaculate Reception" due to an infamous last play of regulation. The Raiders played the Steelers on the road last season, coming out on top, 26-17. Both teams stand at 6-8 coming off victories and looking to stay in the win column.
Here are three top matchups to look out for as the Raiders prepare for battle at Acrisure Stadium.
Luke Masterson vs. Najee Harris
The Raiders rookie linebacker may have his hands full, literally and metaphorically, this Saturday.
Luke Masterson has risen in the Raiders defense late in the season, filling in for the injured Divine Deablo and Jayon Brown. The undrafted rookie from Wake Forest has made the most of his opportunities, leading the team in tackles (11) in last Sunday's win. The moment hasn't seemed too big for Masterson, which his head coach attributes to preparation.
"He works really hard. He's a young kid, but he doesn't prepare like a young kid," said Head Coach Josh McDaniels. "He's got a maturity about him. I think he really pays attention to the veteran players that could show a player like him how to do it right, even if they're not necessarily [in his room]. He has good guys in his room, obviously with Denzel [Perryman]. But I think he pays attention to Duron [Harmon], I think he pays attention to Maxx [Crosby] and Chandler [Jones]. I think he pays attention to guys like that, and just really approaches the week like a pro."
While it will take the defensive unit as a whole to stop Steelers running back Najee Harris, Masterson could to be in line to have a lot of encounters with him. Harris was selected to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, after totaling 1,667 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Through 14 games this year, he's rushed for 790 yards and six touchdowns.
"This is a very big man," defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said of Harris. "I mean, just on the tape, it seemed like he was bigger. I haven't seen him in person before, so I'm looking forward to it. ... It's going to be a challenge for everybody, it's not going to be a one-man show to tackle this guy. He has a stiff arm, he's elusive, he has good speed, he has great vision. And it's going to be a tough matchup."
The size of the 6-foot-1, 232-pound running back will present a unique challenge for Masterson, if Harris is ready to go for Saturday. The RB did not participate in Wednesday's practice due to a hip injury.
Maxx Crosby vs. TJ Watt
Maxx Crosby and TJ.. Watt are two defensive players that can wreck a game if you allow them.
Both have been on a tear since arriving into the NFL, and are expected to play a big role for their respective defenses in Saturday's contest. Crosby has had a standout season, as he leads the team in sacks (11.5), tackles for loss (19), quarterback hits (29) and forced fumbles (three). His production could warrant him being in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year.
Speaking of the Defensive Player of the Year Award, the Steelers linebacker is the reigning recipient – after leading the league in sacks and tackles for loss in 2021. A chest injury forced Watt to miss eight games this season, but he has been productive since his Week 10 return. He's racked up 2.5 sacks and seven total tackles in his previous two games.
"He's a game-changer," Crosby said about Watt. "He makes big plays in the biggest moments and that's what really stands out to me. It always seems in critical moments he's making big plays. He's not just getting sacks. He's getting strip sacks, he's getting interceptions at the line of scrimmage. He's one of those guys I look up to. Me and him talk often, and he's just a great dude and a great player. I have a ton of respect for him."
In last season's Week 2 victory over the Steelers, Crosby finished with a tackle for loss and five quarterback hits. Watt had a sack and four total tackles before exiting the game with an injury.
The Raiders vs. Penalties
It's hard to turn to blind eye to the Raiders' issues with penalties.
While the offense is 11th-best in the league, they also have the second-most penalty yards committed by a team on the season. They committed at least 90 yards of penalties in their previous two games. While penalties have been an issue, the Raiders have won four of their last five games. If they can clean things up with discipline, they could be even more potent as an offense.
"We've had some cleaner games recently. And then all of a sudden, to have as many as we did [Sunday] hurt us the way that they did and put us in long yardage," McDaniels said. "There's no excuses for those. We need to be able to go out and call a play in the huddle, break the huddle and get to the line of scrimmage, and snap the ball without penalty before the play clock's down. So, no, we can't do that – not inconsistently play good offense."
View team photographer Matt Aguirre's best photos from Allegiant Stadium's catwalk during the Las Vegas Raiders' Week 15 victory against the New England Patriots.