Steelers-Chargers Odds, Predictions, Picks: How Our Expert is Betting the Spread For Sunday Night Football
Getty Images. Pictured: Chargers QB Justin Herbert, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and RB Najee Harris (left to right)
- For the Week 11 edition of Sunday Night Football, the Steelers will take on the Chargers in L.A.
- The line has stayed at Steelers +6 or bumped to 6.5 across sportsbooks as of Sunday night.
- See how our expert is playing the spread for this SNF showdown.
|Time||8:20 p.m. ET|
The Chargers will welcome in the Steelers in a game that could end up determining each team’s eventual fate in the AFC playoff picture. The head-to-head tiebreaker probably won’t come into play down the line due to Pittsburgh’s tie last week, but every game is so critical for the teams in the wide-open playoff race.
Coming into this week, the 5-3-1 Steelers sat in sixth spot in the AFC playoffs, while the 5-4 Chargers held the final spot with the seventh seed. However, plenty of teams remain right on their heels in the wild card race:
- Bengals (5-4)
- Raiders (5-4)
- Colts (5-5)
- Browns (5-5)
- Broncos (5-5)
Both Pittsburgh and Los Angeles also still have realistic shots in their respective divisions. The Steelers are tied with the first-place Ravens (6-3) in the loss column of a jam-packed AFC North. Meanwhile, the AFC West looks very similar with all four teams also having at least five wins. The Chargers came into the week only a half game behind the first place Chiefs (6-3) — who they have already beat on the road.
This is a massive game for both teams to say the least. So, who has the edge? Let’s take a look.
Click the arrow to expand injury reports
Steelers vs. Chargers Injury Report
- OL Kevin Dotson (ankle): Out
- CB Joe Haden (foot): Out
- LB T.J. Watt (hip/knee): Out
- DE Isaiahh Loudermilk (groin): Out
- S Alohi Gilman (quad): Doubtful
- DL Linval Joseph (shoulder): Doubtful
- DB Mark Webb Jr. (knee): Doubtful
- RB Justin Jackson (quad): Questionable
- DB Trey Marshall (ankle): Questionable
Steelers vs. Chargers Matchup
|Steelers Offense||DVOA Rank||Chargers Defense|
|Steelers Defense||DVOA Rank||Chargers Offense|
|Football Outsiders’ DVOA measures efficiency by comparing a team’s success on every play to the league average based on situation and opponent.|
Steelers Have Question Mark Under Center
Pittsburgh’s offense has many flaws this year. Big Ben obviously isn’t the same quarterback we have seen in the past. The offensive line also isn’t helping matters. That unit ranks 29th in Line Yards, which has made life difficult for rookie running back Najee Harris, who has looked great when you consider the lack of help he gets from that unit up front. There’s a reason the Steelers grade out as a bottom-three offense on early downs.
The pass protection metrics look better, but that’s more of a result of Roethlisberger getting rid of the ball so quickly. His average time to throw of 2.31 seconds is the lowest of any quarterback in the league (min. 100 dropbacks).
Speaking of Big Ben, we may not see him under center this weekend. That’s the question hovering over the Steelers this week with their signal caller on the COVID-19 list last weekend, which caused him to miss the Lions game. Mason Rudolph got the start in his place and did not perform well against a putrid Detroit secondary. He finished with only 242 yards on a whopping 50 pass attempts.
I do think we will see a slightly better version of Rudolph (which still isn’t great) after practicing with the first-team offense all week. Remember, he got thrown into the QB1 role suddenly last weekend after Roethlisberger tested positive on Saturday.
Pittsburgh wants to make its living on the defensive end, but has seen a slight decline in production on that end. Recent offseason losses and injuries haven’t helped matters, but the Steelers defense has graded out at just slightly above league average level in 2021.
- 14th in DVOA (15th vs. pass and 17th vs. run)
- 12th in EPA per play
Now, this unit must deal with the loss of a number of key starters on Sunday night. It appears that star edge rusher T.J. Watt, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and cornerback Joe Haden will all miss this game. That’s not ideal.
Chargers Defense is Clear Weak Spot
Los Angeles will go as its offense goes. Justin Herbert continues to operate at a high level in front of an upgraded offensive line thanks to offseason acquisitions and the selection of tackle Rashawn Slater, who has not disappointed in his rookie season. Per PFF, Slater grades out as the sixth-best tackle in the NFL through 10 weeks.
Plus, with Austin Ekeler now healthy and a pair of excellent wideouts in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, Herbert has plenty of weapons to work with. For the season, the Chargers offense ranks sixth in DVOA and eighth in EPA per play.
There are some worrying signs on early downs, primarily as a result of inefficient play-calling in my option. But any way you slice it, this is a top-10 offense.
It’s a completely different story on the defensive side of the ball. Coming into the season, I had my concerns about how this roster fit with what Brandon Staley wants to do from a scheme perspective. The Chargers also lost a lot of talent on that side of the ball.
So far, the results have not been pretty. L.A.’s defense ranks 23rd in EPA per play and 30th success rate. It also has the worst run defense in the league by many metrics. They rank 29th in Line Yards and have allowed a league-high 4.8 yards per carry. Consequently, they rank 31st in early downs success rate. It’s bad on bad in that department against the Steelers.
The Chargers also might not have the services of Joey Bosa and Jerry Tillery along the defensive line. The secondary should get a couple key guys back, but it may struggle to generate pressure without Bosa and that has been the primary strength of this unit.
NFL Pick: Steelers vs. Chargers
This is a tough game to handicap with all of the uncertainty and potential missing pieces for both teams — more so the Steelers than the Chargers.
However, that’s built into the line. There’s no reason to go crazy on this game with so much uncertainty, but I did play some Steelers +6 with the assumption that Mason Rudolph will get the start. It’s possible Big Ben still plays and if that’s the case, I’d like Pittsburgh even more — although I don’t think there’s an enormous drop-off between Rudolph and the current version of Big Ben.
As of the time I’m writing this, it looks like Big Ben will start.
#Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger will be activated to the team’s 53-man roster after passing the NFL’s required COVID-19 protocols. He will fly separate this afternoon from the team’s charter plane to Los Angeles with the expectation of starting Sunday night vs the #Chargers.
— Burt Lauten (@SteelersPRBurt) November 20, 2021
For what it’s worth, Roethlisberger came off the COVID-19 list on a Saturday last year before a game against the Bengals and had no issues. He threw for over 300 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions in a 36-10 rout.
This is also a classic Mike Tomlin spot. He thrives as an underdog, especially on the road against winning teams. He’s one of the best motivators in the NFL and is at his best when he can use an “us against the world” mentality. I expect him to have the Steelers ready to roll after an embarrassing tie against the winless Lions last week.
Just take a look at some of these ATS stats:
- 41-20-2 (67.2%) as an underdog (most profitable of 137 coaches in our Action Labs database)
- As an underdog from Week 3 on: 37-15-2 ATS (71.2%)
- Road underdog: 29-17 (63%)
- Road underdog against winning team: 19-7 ATS (73.1%)
He’s even 25-14 on the moneyline as an underdog against teams with winning records for a gaudy 60% ROI. That’s insane. He’s even 13-3-2 ATS (81%) as an underdog without Big Ben. That includes two straight up wins as underdogs of four-plus points on the road against the Chargers with Duck Hodges and the ghost of Michael Vick at quarterback.
Another key factor is that the Steelers should have an edge in the special teams department. L.A. has one of the worst special teams units in the league. The Chargers also don’t have much of a home-field advantage. We should see plenty of Steelers fans in the crowd for this one.
The defensive injuries are very concerning for Pittsburgh, but I expect everyone else to step up in this particular spot. And something just seems a bit off with this Chargers offense, despite all of the talent.
Pittsburgh should also have success running the ball with Harris against this very poor run defense. That’s a luxury they don’t enjoy most weeks.
All the Chargers do is play close games. I expect another one on Sunday night and will back Tomlin as I normally do in this particular spot.
Pick: Steelers +6 | Bet to: +4.5 if Ben Roethlisberger starts
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