So what are the main story lines for this Monday's game between Pittsburgh and San Diego? I'll give you two. First, it was supposed to be a fairly rare meeting between two members of that 2004 NFL quarterback draft class, with the Chargers' Philip Rivers going No. 4 overall to the Giants and then being immediately traded to San Diego in the Eli Manning swap, and the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, who went No. 11 overall. Obviously Big Ben out again with his knee injury is the biggest key here.
The second story line, and I realize we are only in Week 5, is that this could eventually prove to be a key tiebreaker for a wild-card spot with both clubs currently at 2-2. The Bolts missed out on a playoff spot last year because of such a tiebreaker. I don't see either team winning its respective division -- most likely it will be Cincinnati in the Steelers' AFC North and Denver in the Chargers' AFC West.
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Steelers at Chargers Betting Story Lines
San Diego was used by plenty of people in their Survivor Pools last week and the Bolts made said people nervous in only beating visiting Cleveland 30-27. Notice how kickers are struggling so much this year? There were 14 missed field goals last week. Chargers rookie Josh Lambo missed the potential winning 39-yarder with two seconds left vs. the Browns, but Cleveland's Tramon Williams was called for offside and Lambo didn't miss his second try. Despite an injury-plagued offensive line, Rivers was 23-for-38 for 358 yards and three scores, earning AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. He was "only" sacked twice. Rivers has gone down 12 times, which is tied for sixth in the league.
Meanwhile, the Steelers come off a crushing 23-20 home overtime loss to Baltimore on Thursday in Week 4 that was largely kicker Josh Scobee's fault (noticing a trend here?) as he missed two fourth-quarter field goals that likely would have salted the game away. Michael Vick, starting for Big Ben, was not very good in going 19-for-26 for 124 yards and a TD. Antonio Brown was held to five catches for 42 yards. That's notable as it ended Brown's NFL-record streak of 35 straight games with at least five catches and 50 yards -- Bovada offers a special this week on if he starts a new one vs. San Diego. The Steelers relied hugely on Le'Veon Bell with Roethlisberger sidelined and Bell rushed 22 times for 129 yards and a score while catching seven balls. Expect more of that Monday.
To no surprise, Scobee was waived Monday and the team signed Chris Boswell. Scobee made just six of 10 field goal tries and missed one extra point in four games in Pittsburgh. Boswell spent training camp with the Giants. He was undrafted out of Rice and tried out for the Texans in 2014 before being cut. Boswell, the Steelers' fourth kicker already this season, has never kicked in a regular-season game. He beat out veteran Kai Forbath for the job.
Two significant players will return from suspension here: Chargers tight end Antonio Gates and Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant. Gates has long been Rivers' security blanket and top red-zone target. Gates is the team's all-time leader in receptions (788), receiving yards (10,014) and touchdown receptions (99). His next score would make him only the second tight end and ninth player ever to reach the century mark in TD catches. Bryant had 26 catches for 549 yards and eight scores last year, but I don't expect huge production from him until Roethlisberger returns. You can say that about any Steelers receiver.
Injury-wise, Chargers receiver Malcom Floyd and cornerback Brandon Flowers both suffered concussions vs. the Browns but it's looking pretty good for them to play. They both were at practice on Wednesday but of course have to be cleared by the league. Center Chris Watt might return after missing the Cleveland game. Fellow linemen King Dunlap and Orlando Franklin have missed the past two games and it's not looking good for them. Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier should play after missing the past two games.
San Diego ended a three-game losing streak in the series in the last meeting, Dec. 9, 2012, at Heinz Field with a 34-24 upset. That actually was the return of a multi-game absence for Roethlisberger due to a rib injury and he was 22-for-42 for 285 yards and three touchdowns. But those were mostly garbage-time numbers as the Bolts led 27-3 late in the third quarter. Rivers was 21-for-41 for 300 yards and a TD as the Chargers won a regular-season game in Pittsburgh for the first time since the merger.
Steelers at Chargers Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes, San Diego is a 3-point favorite (-120) with a total of 45.5. The Chargers are -170 on the moneyline and Steelers +150. On the alternate lines, the Bolts are -3.5 (+105) and -2.5 (-145). Pittsburgh is 3-0-1 against the spread this season and 1-3 "over/under." San Diego is 1-3 ATS and 2-2 O/U.
The Steelers are 4-0 ATS in their past four on the road. They are 6-1 ATS in their past seven after a loss. Pittsburgh is 1-4 ATS in its past five on Monday. The Chargers are 5-1 ATS in their past six on Monday. They are 1-10 ATS in their past 11 vs. the AFC. San Diego is 1-6 ATS in its past seven at home. The under is 6-1-1 in Pittsburgh's past eight. The over is 8-2 in its past 10 following a loss. The under is 15-6 in San Diego's past 21 following a win. The Steelers have covered seven of the past 10 meetings.
Steelers at Chargers Betting Predictions
If Roethlisberger was playing, I'd probably take Pittsburgh. But then the Steelers surely wouldn't be getting the 3 points. So essentially oddsmakers see this as a pick'em if you believe the adage that playing at home is worth 3 points. I went against Vick at home last week and I see no reason why to take him on the road. Give the 2.5-point alternate line and go over the total.
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