San Diego Chargers (4-8) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)
A lot of trends say the Chargers are the right side. Teams are 102-57 ATS as dogs before being favorites over the past 2 seasons and the Chargers are favorites next week at home for the Panthers. Meanwhile, road dogs are 57-33 ATS off back-to-back losses as home dogs since 1989. Philip Rivers is also deadly in December, even when their season is over, as it really has been in the last 2 Decembers. He’s 21-10 ATS in week 14 or later, including 6-2 ATS since 2010, and 8-2 ATS as dogs. Meanwhile, on the Steelers side of things, they are coming off an emotional, close comeback win against the divisional rival Ravens as big underdogs and they might not get up for the crappy Chargers. Favorites are 9-17 ATS as a close win (1-3) as touchdown plus divisional favorites since 1989.
However, all the trends said the Chargers would beat the Bengals and Ravens too as small home favorites. Here’s something I wish I knew 3 weeks ago. The Chargers are 1-9 ATS over the past 2 seasons as non-divisional dogs. They don’t get up for these games and it probably won’t be any different this week now that it’s essentially gotten out that everyone in San Diego is going to be canned at the end of the season. Besides, the Chargers have to go across the country for a 1 PM ET game as a West Coast team, a situation teams normally struggle in. The Chargers are 1-6 ATS in this spot under Norv Turner.
Calculating real line for this one wouldn’t make a ton of sense because of the fluidity of these two team’s injury situations. Obviously Ben Roethlisberger returns this week, but Troy Polamalu’s return last week should be an equally big deal. After all, their defense allows about 6 points per game fewer since the start of the 2009 season with Polamalu in the lineup rather than without him. They have other major injuries, but the sheer fact that Roethlisberger and Polamalu will be in the lineup in the same game for the first time since week 1 is a pretty big deal. Ike Taylor and LaMarr Woodley being out is important, but then again, they won without both last week.
On the Chargers’ side, their offensive line is in shambles. Already missing left tackle Jared Gaither, who has been replaced by Mike Harris, an undrafted rookie who is playing exactly like you’d expect an undrafted rookie left tackle to play, the Chargers are missing right tackle Jared Gaither, Harris, and left guard Tyronne Greene in this one. This offensive line already surpassed the Cardinals as the worst rated offensive line in the league last weeks, in terms of pass block efficiency. The fact that they’re having to go even deeper into their depth in this one is a very bad sign, especially against Dick LeBeau’s complex blitz schemes.
It’s definitely not a big play on the Steelers because of all of the trends in the Chargers’ favor, but the Chargers probably won’t get up for this game. My biggest concern is that now that they are no longer small dogs, the trends will start to matter as they’ll no longer need to win straight up to cover. They haven’t won straight up against anyone other than the Chiefs since week 2 (when they beat the crappy Titans and before that they beat the crappy Raiders), but they could easily get a backdoor cover here like they did in a very similar situation in Denver a few weeks back. The Steelers are still the play though.
Public lean: Pittsburgh (60% range)
Sharps lean: PIT 18 SD 2
Final thoughts: Tempted to boost this to 2 units, but I’m terrified of the backdoor cover. I just have the feeling that now that the Chargers won’t need to win to cover, they’ll get it done and screw me over if I make this any bigger.
Pittsburgh Steelers 24 San Diego Chargers 13
Pick against spread: Pittsburgh -7.5 (-110) 1 unit