The Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3-1) and Los Angeles Chargers (5-4) will meet on Sunday night in a game that could be key to each team’s playoff chances in the AFC this year. The Steelers are coming off a disappointing tie with the winless Lions while the Chargers dropped another home game to the Vikings on Sunday. Now both teams are dealing with COVID and injury situations surrounding some of their best players. But what about the NFL odds?
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Sunday, November 21, 2021 – 08:20 PM EST at SoFi Stadium
The Chargers (5-4 ATS) are a 5.5-point favorite over the Steelers (3-6 ATS) at many of BMR’s top sportsbooks. While the Chargers could be without edge rusher Joey Bosa (COVID close contact), the Steelers could potentially be without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (COVID), safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (COVID), and edge rusher T.J. Watt (hip).
That certainly tips the scale towards the Chargers, but can you trust anything or anyone in the AFC this season?
Steelers: Remember the Duck?
It was just two seasons ago when the Steelers, a 6-point underdog, went into Los Angeles and upset the Chargers on Sunday Night Football. Despite starting Devlin “Duck” Hodges at quarterback, the Steelers led 24-0 before hanging on for a 24-17.
Plenty has changed with both teams since, but the Steelers under Mike Tomlin tend to win games they shouldn’t and lose (or tie) games they shouldn’t. This is the team that beat Buffalo and got a tie with the Lions this season.
Beating a Los Angeles team that has struggled and lost three of four would not be that monumental, but it is going to be difficult with the health problems the Steelers have. Ben Roethlisberger has a chance to play but it is not a given.
The Steelers missed his experience last week. Mason Rudolph threw the ball 50 times in the cold rain and did not have much success against one of the worst pass defenses in the league.
I’d look for the Steelers to rely on rookie back Najee Harris more in this matchup. Defensively, the Chargers face the most runs and have allowed the most rushing yards and highest yards per carry.
They actually want you to run because they think longer drives will lead to the opponent eventually screwing up. This has not worked that well as the Chargers rank 25th in points per drive allowed and 23rd in the red zone.
The Steelers could be getting wide receiver Chase Claypool back after he missed Sunday’s game. If Bosa, who is unvaccinated, is out on Sunday, then it just invites the Steelers to throw more. But relying more on Harris and an improving run game could be their best bet if it’s Rudolph again or Roethlisberger back from a bout with COVID.
Pittsburgh is unlikely to light up the Chargers regardless of which players play on offense, but the bigger wild card in this matchup could be the other units.
What’s Wrong With the Chargers?
After beating the Browns 47-42 in Week 5, the 4-1 Chargers were a big deal in the AFC. Justin Herbert was in the MVP conversation and Brandon Staley was thought to be running away with the Coach of the Year award. Since then, the Chargers are 1-3. The fourth-down magic isn’t there, Herbert’s numbers are way down, and the team had that awful 34-6 loss against Baltimore before losing two games at home to the Patriots and Vikings.
Through five games, Herbert threw 13 touchdowns to 3 interceptions and averaged 7.61 yards per attempt. In the last four games, Herbert has thrown 6 touchdowns to 4 picks with 6.64 yards per attempt.
Through five games, the Chargers were converting 48.5% on third down, which ranked fourth in the league, and they were 7-of-8 on fourth down. In the last month, they have regressed to 19th on third down at 37.0% and are only 4-of-9 on fourth down.
While Keenan Allen has been a consistent receiver, the offense was doing much better when deep-threat Mike Williams was flourishing. Williams was a monster during that 4-1 start with 471 yards and 6 touchdowns. But during this 1-3 run where he has played through injury, Williams only has 10 catches for 137 yards and no touchdowns.
The Chargers really have not developed a third wide receiver in this offense, so if Williams is having a down game, it's all on Allen, running back Austin Ekeler, and tight end Jared Cook to get the job done.
Pittsburgh’s defense has not been traditionally great this year, but the unit still ranks No. 4 in yards and No. 7 in points per drive allowed. But the Chargers might be getting a break this week as T.J. Watt injured his hip late in Sunday’s game and is likely out this Sunday.
Corner Joe Haden is also day-to-day, which would be a big loss as he’ll have to deal with Allen and Williams. Fitzpatrick is also a potential big loss for the Steelers as they are dealing with their biggest COVID outbreak during the pandemic.
This is a hard matchup to pick confidently without knowing which top players will ultimately play on Sunday night. But the Steelers have not lost their last five games and generally play teams close.
Every Los Angeles game except for the blowout loss in Baltimore has been within one score in the fourth quarter this year. While I think Mason Rudolph is a bad quarterback, he has lost 24-20 in San Francisco (a Super Bowl team) in 2019 and 24-22 in Cleveland (a playoff team) last year in a game where Pittsburgh played backups.
For this NFL pick, I am going to trust the Steelers to cover and am even more confident in that should Roethlisberger start this one.
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.