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Chargers and Steelers Set for Super Sexy Sunday Night Showdown

Two of the AFC’s best teams, both of them still in the hunt for a first-round playoff bye, will hook up on Sunday night in the Steel City when the Chargers head to Pittsburgh to try to hand the Steelers a second straight loss. The Steelers return home after consecutive road games and Big Ben and the boys have been lighting it up at Heinz Field, averaging 35.4 points per game, which is 12.2 points more than they average on the road.

Pittsburgh opened the week at -3.5 with the total set at 51.5.

Shark Bites:
  • Austin Ekeler’s yards per rush and reception are both higher than Melvin Gordon’s.
  • Pittsburgh is 14-1 SU in its last 15 night games.
  • Steelers home games have an average combined score of 60.2 this season.

Chargers vs Steelers Game Center

How Much Will LA Miss Melvin?

The biggest storyline coming into the game is the absence of Melvin Gordon from the Chargers backfield. The running back will be inactive due to an MCL sprain and this could have a tremendous impact on the Chargers’ ability to move the ball. Not including their Week 12 game vs the Cardinals that Gordon departed early due to the injury, he was averaging 20.5 touches per game with 11 total touchdowns.

Gordon is one of the most dynamic players in the game — just ask anyone who plays fantasy — and his exclusion could turn the Chargers offense into a one-dimensional one unless Austin Ekeler can pick up where he left off. To his credit, Ekeler has been an excellent backup, averaging 5.8 yards on 70 carries and 11.1 yards on 32 receptions. Obviously, they are much smaller sample sizes than Gordon’s but it’s worth pointing out that both averages are higher.

As a result, it should be business as usual from an offensive game-planning standpoint for LA unless Ekeler proves that he can’t be trusted as the lead back.

Prime Time is the Right Time for the Steelers

Pittsburgh is on an incredible roll in night games, going 14-1 SU in its last 15 games under the lights. In those 14 wins, they have an average win margin of 13.14 points. Specific to night games at home, they’ve won six of their last seven and have laid the smack down in a big way, posting an average win margin of 20.33 points in those six wins. Six of those seven games also went OVER. Playing after the sun goes down hasn’t been a good spot for the Chargers as they’ve dropped five of their last six night games.

Speaking of specific times that the Steelers dominate in, they’ve been eviscerating teams once the calendar flips to December, picking up 18 wins in their last 20 games in December. As for the Chargers in the last month of the year, they’ve gone UNDER in eight straight December games.

Conflicting Scoring Trends

The Steelers are on a tear at home, averaging 42 points over their last three games at Heinz Field. The Chargers are on a tear on the road, only allowing opponents to score 12.33 points over their last three away games. Steelers home games have been high-scoring affairs this season, averaging a combined score of 60.2, while Chargers road games tend to be middle-of-the-road in terms of point totals, averaging 45.8 points.

Another strength vs strength that doesn’t do handicappers any favors is Pittsburgh’s passing attack vs the Los Angeles pass defense. The Steelers throw for the second-most passing yards per game and the Chargers allow the seventh-fewest while allowing just 16 touchdown passes.

And to confuse matters even more, these are two of the most efficient teams in the NFL, with the Chargers ranking first in net yards per play while the Steelers rank second.

So, what the hell are we supposed to do with this info?

Well, in a game like this with two high-performing teams, it could ultimately come down to one play. Pittsburgh has shown a greater ability to convert in the red zone, ranking second with a TD scoring percentage of 75.76 which is second-best in the league, whereas the Chargers rank 15th at 60.53 percent. Looking at home/away splits, the Steelers are No. 1 at home and that Chargers’ number takes a bit of a dip to 55.56 percent. This could be enough of a difference for Pittsburgh to cover the spread.

My best bet

Give me the Steelers -3.5.

Their complete and utter domination in prime time plus their 35.4 scoring average at home is a big reason for this pick. Another big consideration is the Chargers’ inability to hang with good teams. Both the Chiefs and Rams beat them by double digits while their record is inflated by seven wins vs teams who are currently below .500.

As for the total, I’m personally not betting it. I lean toward the OVER, but the Chargers defense is bordering on elite as one of just four teams to be allowing less than 20 points per game. The result of this and the possibility of them altering their game plan due to Melvin Gordon’s absence creates a little bit of unpredictability that I’m not interested in.