Another ineffective effort on offense for the Steelers isn't likely to be good enough this time against the streaking Chargers, who have advanced to this AFC divisional playoff game Sunday at Heinz Field even though LaDainian Tomlinson is doubtful for the game.
Oddsmakers from Online Sportsbook Sportsbook.com have made the Steelers –6 point spread favorites for Sunday’s game against the Chargers. Current NFL Public Betting Information shows that 54% of more than 63,442 bets for this game have been placed on the Steelers -6.
After a bye week, AFC North champion Pittsburgh (12-4) will face San Diego (9-8) for the first time since a game that embodied all of its ongoing concerns offensively.
The Steelers beat the Chargers 11-10 at Heinz Field on Nov. 16, but didn't score a touchdown despite making three trips inside San Diego's 20-yard line. One drive ended when Mewelde Moore was dropped for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-goal from inside the 1, and Pittsburgh repeatedly hurt itself with 13 penalties.
"We moved the ball, but we sputtered in the red zone," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "We can't afford to do that. We can't turn the ball over. The big thing is we can drive up and down the field, but we have to be able to put the ball in when we get down there."
The loss was the first of three straight that appeared to end San Diego's playoff hopes, but it won its last four games and took the AFC West title after beating Denver in the regular-season finale. The Chargers went on to upset Indianapolis 23-17 in overtime in a wild-card matchup last Saturday.
San Diego is averaging 34.4 points during its five-game run, and bested the potent Colts offense even though Tomlinson was hampered by what he confirmed Wednesday to be a torn tendon in his groin. Tomlinson was officially listed as doubtful by the team on Friday.
``I'm going to hold out hope, but I don't know if that's realistic,'' coach Norv Turner said, adding there was no need to rule Tomlinson out before Sunday.
With Tomlinson likely unavailable, the Chargers will have to rely even more heavily on Darren Sproles, the 5-foot-6 running back who rolled up 328 all-purpose yards last week and scored the winning touchdown on a 22-yard run. Sproles rushed for 105 yards on 23 carries.
"We always talk about how we're going to need each other and it's not more important than it is now," Tomlinson, who came out of the game after scoring on a 3-yard run early in the second quarter, said of Sproles. "We definitely need him."
As the tiny Sproles isn't a workhorse back, San Diego will also need another strong fill-in effort from veteran Michael Bennett, who ran four times for 24 yards against the Colts.
"Michael was impressive the other night and he's slowly gotten work in practice. He's got a grip on what we're doing offensively, so if he is called upon I have confidence he'll be ready," coach Norv Turner told the team's official Web site Monday.
Whoever is in the San Diego backfield could have a tough time at Pittsburgh, where cold weather and the league's No. 2-ranked rushing defense awaits. San Diego was held to 66 yards rushing in the teams' last meeting.
That likely makes another strong defensive effort against the Steelers essential for Turner's team if it wants to advance to the AFC championship game.
"We did a great job defensively back there," Turner said of that game. "We gave up a lot of yards, but we had a great goal-line stand and we held them out.
"As I said before the Indianapolis game, I believe we're a lot better team now than we were six weeks ago or eight weeks ago. So that's going to be a part of it. You're in the playoffs and you're playing a team that's got home-field advantage and is an outstanding team. We're going to have to be at our best."
The Steelers appear to have many advantages over the Chargers, who have won twice in 15 trips to Pittsburgh. San Diego's road wins against Pittsburgh, though, came in the teams' only two playoff meetings. In the last one, the Chargers won 17-13 in the AFC title game Jan. 15, 1995.
They'll also be facing a Steelers team that could have trouble on offense. Pittsburgh managed eight touchdowns in seven games against teams that made the playoffs.
As good as AP Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison and the Steelers' No. 1-ranked defense are, Pittsburgh is going to need to find a rhythm when it has the ball.
"There's no hocus-pocus or secret formula for getting the ball in the end zone," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We've got to execute better. We've got to put our guys in a better position to capitalize on field position."
Part of the problem has been a drop off in Pittsburgh's usually strong running attack, with Willie Parker missing five games due to a knee injury. Parker, though, is back and is coming off one of his best performances of the season, rushing for 116 yards and a touchdown in the Steelers' 31-0 win over Cleveland on Dec. 28.
Roethlisberger's inconsistency is also a concern. A year after throwing 32 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions, Roethlisberger has 17 TDs and 15 INTs.
Against San Diego, Roethlisberger was 31-of-41 for 308 yards without a turnover, yet the offense managed only three field goals by Jeff Reed.
There are also worries about Roethlisberger's health. He suffered a concussion versus the Browns, had ongoing headaches last week and didn't pass a post-concussion test until Monday.
While San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is healthy, he struggled against the Steelers in November, throwing for 164 yards and two INTs.
Rivers' favorite target at wideout, Vincent Jackson, was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of drunken driving. Jackson, in a brief statement released through the team, said he didn't think charges would be filed against him.
Jackson had the first 1,000-yard season of his career, leading the team with 1,098. His 59 receptions and seven touchdown catches were both second on the team behind Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates, but Jackson didn't have a reception against Indianapolis. He had two catches for 25 yards versus Pittsburgh.
Chargers at Steelers Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
PITTSBURGH is 8-3 against the spread versus SAN DIEGO since 1992
PITTSBURGH is 8-3 straight up against SAN DIEGO since 1992
7 of 11 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
SAN DIEGO is 2-0 against the spread versus PITTSBURGH over the last 3 seasons
PITTSBURGH is 1-1 straight up against SAN DIEGO over the last 3 seasons
2 of 2 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at PITTSBURGH since 1992
PITTSBURGH is 4-2 against the spread versus SAN DIEGO since 1992
PITTSBURGH is 5-1 straight up against SAN DIEGO since 1992
4 of 6 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at PITTSBURGH over the last 3 seasons.
SAN DIEGO is 1-0 against the spread versus PITTSBURGH over the last 3 seasons
PITTSBURGH is 1-0 straight up against SAN DIEGO over the last 3 seasons
1 of 1 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Chargers at Steelers Key Player Injuries
[C] Nick Hardwick injured last game, "?" - Concussion - 12/14/08
[FB] Mike Tolbert missed last game, "?" - Shoulder - 12/12/08
[LB] Anthony Waters missed last game, "?" - Hamstring - 12/14/08
[LB] Shawne Merriman IR - Knee - 09/10/08
[SS] Clinton Hart missed last game, "?" - Shoulder - 12/14/08
[WR] Buster Davis IR - Groin - 11/20/08
[WR] Chris Chambers injured last game, "?" - Head - 12/15/08
[DE] Brett Keisel missed last game, "?" - Knee - 12/14/08
[OG] Kendall Simmons IR - Achilles - 09/30/08
[OL] Greg Warren IR - Leg - 10/28/08
[OT] Marvel Smith missed last game, "?" - Back - 12/14/08
[P] Daniel Sepulveda IR - Knee - 07/30/08
[QB] Charlie Batch IR - Collarbone - 08/30/08
[RB] Rashard Mendenhall IR - Shoulder - 09/30/08
Posted: 1/10/08 6:50PM ET