We’ve got a great battle among two AFC giants Sunday night when the San Diego Chargers visit the Pittsburgh Steelers. Our Sunday Night NFL Prediction against the spread will take in a lot of data points and stats, and hopefully delivery you a winner.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have performed well without Le’Veon but perhaps this game against the Chargers will be the ultimate test for James Conner. Conner’s fumble in the Steelers’ 24-17 loss to the Denver Broncos last week was troubling. But he has been more than an adequate replacement for Bell, rushing for 849 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Chargers have a key missing player of their own. The Chargers (8-3) will be without running back Melvin Gordon, who will miss one to three games with a knee injury. He has run for 802 yards and nine touchdowns to go along with 44 receptions for 453 yards and four touchdowns.
Austin Ekeler has the task of replacing Gordon, and he has impressive numbers, rushing for 409 yards and averaging 5.8 yards per carry, while catching 32 passes.
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Rivers is looking to have success against a Steelers front that has been leaky against the run the past two weeks.
“I’m not going to overblow it, but we have to be more accountable,” Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “We have to make sure we’re following our assignments, tackling well. And then when we do get the opportunity, we have to strip the ball.”
The absence of Gordon might require Rivers to be a bigger part of the offense. He was incredible in last weekend’s 45-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals,. He set two NFL records — one for completing his first 25 pass attempts of the game and the other for the highest completion percentage in a contest, connecting on 28 of 29 attempts.
He ranks third in the NFL in passer rating and has 26 touchdown passes against six picks.
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The Steelers (7-3-1) have a pretty good quarterback themselves in Ben Roethlisberger, who was part of the same 2004 draft that brought Rivers into the league.
Roethlisberger’s problem this season has been interceptions. He has 12 on his resume, tied for the second-most in the league. He also threw two critical picks in last week’s loss to Denver.
Turnovers in general have plagued the Steelers. They committed four against the Broncos, giving them 19 for the season. Only six teams have more turnovers, and all six have losing records. This is something Steeler fans have gotten used to. Ben throwing picks or turnovers in general and then fighting their way back into the game to get the win.
Opponents have committed just 12 turnovers against Pittsburgh, giving the Steelers a minus-7 differential. It is amazing they have the record they do.
“If you look back at the last eight quarters of football for us as a football team it’s something that we have to tighten up and tighten up rather quickly,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’ve turned the ball over some on offense. We have to do a better job of safeguarding and preserving it in everything that we do, whether it is passing or running with the football.
Perhaps playing at Heinz Field will help the Steelers, who have a 14-1 record against the Chargers at home. Most of those games were played a long time ago, however, and the one Chargers win at Pittsburgh came in their most recent visit, back in 2012. They have met only once since then, and the Steelers won that 2015 game in San Diego 24-20.
The Chargers have played well on the road this year, winning four of their five games away from home. However, the Chargers still must prove they can beat the top teams. All but one of their wins this season have come against teams that currently have a losing record. The one exception was the victory over Seattle, which is barely over .500 at 6-5.
With all these data points and stats, we’re going to pick the Chargers to cover the spread of 3 this evening. Wait until the end as you may even be able to get 3.5 as public money appears to be coming in on the Steelers due to the Gordon injury.
Jack Kincaid is a Wannamakeabet.com senior NFL analyst. Coming off a losing week last week going 2-3. Thanks Packers.