This week’s Sunday night primetime game brings together a pair of struggling teams desperate for a win as the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Los Angeles Chargers. Kickoff is at 8:20 EST on Sunday, October 13 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. The game will be televised nationally on NBC.
If we look at this week’s NFL betting odds, the Chargers are 6.5-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 41 points.
The Steelers have struggled to survive the loss of Ben Roethlisberger, who is sidelined for the rest of the season. They managed to knock off a winless Bengals team a couple of weeks ago but followed it up with an overtime loss to the Ravens last week. To make matters worse, new starting quarterback Mason Rudolph has spent all week in concussion protocol and may not be able to play on Sunday.
At 1-4, Pittsburgh is running out of time to get things turned around, even if they only trail Baltimore by two games in the AFC North. The Steelers will have the benefit of playing three straight home games after next week’s bye, giving them a chance to regroup and get back on track. But heading into their bye at 1-5 will make it tough to salvage the season, making this a must-win game for them.
Meanwhile, the Chargers are also coming off a loss, losing at home to the previously winless Broncos last week. The loss dropped Los Angeles to 2-3 on the season. Thus far, the Chargers have fallen well short of preseason expectations, which were quite high after a 12-4 campaign last year. The thing that stings the most is that L.A. has lost two of their three home games.
If the Chargers can’t get on track this week at home, things could start to spiral out of control with road games against the Titans and Bears on the horizon. L.A. has already fallen two games behind the Chiefs inside the AFC West, making it look like they’ll be chasing a Wild Card spot this season.
The Chargers have done little to earn anybody’s trust this season. But they’re going to luck out this week by catching the Steelers at the right time. With Rudolph unlikely to play and undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges likely to get his first start, the odds are stacked against the Steelers. I think the Chargers are better than what they’ve shown, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and lean toward them to cover a touchdown against an undermanned Pittsburgh team.
For what it’s worth, Hodges wasn’t half bad in relief of Rudolph last week. He completed seven of his nine passes and didn’t turn the ball over. But coming off the bench and keeping your team in the game at home is a lot different from starting a game on the road against a team that’s prepared to face you. For a quarterback who played at an FCS program in college, there’s no way of knowing if Hodges is ready for that challenge.
The performance of the Pittsburgh rushing attack this season doesn’t exactly make me think that Hodges will get a lot of support. James Connor is gaining just 3.3 yards per carry and hasn’t even eclipsed 200 yards on the season. On top of that, backup Jaylen Samuels is set to miss the next month due to injury. Even against the porous rush defense of the Chargers, I have my doubts about the Pittsburgh running game. We already know the Steelers have problems at wide receiver outside of JuJuj Smith-Schuster. They’ll be even more short-handed this week with James Washington out and tight end Vance McDonald listed as questionable.
On the other side of the ball, the Pittsburgh defense may not be much help either. Outside of their game against the winless Bengals, the Steelers have allowed at least 24 points in every game this season. With the Pittsburgh offense looking so limited these days, that’s a trend that can’t continue if the Steelers are going to have a chance in this game.
The Chargers, meanwhile, have plenty of offensive potential, even if they’ve been inconsistent this season. Last week, they committed two turnovers in the red zone, an occurrence that is unlikely to repeat itself this week. Keep in mind that Melvin Gordon is back from his holdout. He didn’t do much last week in part because the team fell behind early. Gordon should have more of a chance to establish himself this week. The L.A. offense also has Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen as reliable playmakers around Philip Rivers. Those guys should help the Chargers get their offense moving in the right direction this week.
At the end of the day, there are simply too many questions about the Steelers to take a chance on them. Even with the spread at 6.5 points, I’m not sure the Pittsburgh offense can score enough to stay within striking distance. I don’t think the Chargers will blow them out, but winning by a touchdown seems like a reasonable expectation.