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Chargers-Steelers pregame stretch

December 7, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

San Diego Chargers (4-8) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

Weather – or not?: Scattered storms, 54. This will be the first game played at Heinz Field since it was resodded (again) after the Pitt-Rutgers game two weeks ago. With the warm weather, you’d imagine the sod had a chance to root, but you never know for certain how three days of forecast off-and-on rain might affect the footing.

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Announcers: Jim Nantz and Phil Simms

Annoyance factor: Lather, rinse, repeat. We were reading a TV column in the Baltimore Sun Sunday that noted last week was the first Ravens game that CBS’ reputed No. 1 broadcast team had done all year. Pittsburgh has the opposite issue, we can’t get rid of them. But, in this case, we really cannot believe the gruesome twosome is on this game over the 9-3 Ravens vs. RGIII and the Redskins or even Miami and Super Bowl contender San Francisco. On one hand, it’s a testament to the nationwide appeal of the Steelers (remember, they moved there and they live there), but on the other, it’s cruel and unusual punishment. We thought for sure this was going to be Marv Albert and Rich Gannon.

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Referee: Scott Green

Competence factor: Green has helmed three Super Bowls, but he’s no favorite among bettors or Steelers fans, both as a result of the same game. That would be the infamous 11-10 win over the Chargers in 2008 where Green erroneously took Troy Polamalu’s touchdown off the board on the final play, which meant Pittsburgh failed to cover the -5.5 line in the game. The same game was also one of the most one-sided officiating affairs in recent memory, with Pittsburgh being tagged for 13 penalties for 115 yards, while the Chargers were hit with a single, five-yard infraction. We see you, Scott Green.

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The line: Steelers -7

Smarts say: It’s pretty clear that Vegas believes Ben Roethlisberger is playing this weekend as the first line on this game was posted just after the Steelers’ Wednesday practice. We’re guessing it might have been -3 with Charlie Batch at the helm again. The over/under of 42 would result in something like 24-17 Steelers.

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+ Mike Tomlin held a rare Wednesday press briefing this week to update the media on Ben Roethlisberger's health and we have no doubt that was intended to pre-empt the previous "best" news source on the injury: Ben Roethlisberger himself. On the three previous Wednesdays, Roethlisberger had told the Pittsburgh media that the injury was life threatening, extremely rare and really two injuries. While doing so, he was ostensibly (choose one) repeating/embellishing/misunderstanding what Steelers doctors had told him. In each case, there was no real medical source to back up the claim and a lot of anecdotal evidence to potentially dispute it. So what resulted was either a) media using doctors NOT involved with the case to comment, or b) media using the Internet asa a resource to try and draw medical conclusions (ahem, guilty). Hopefully, the silliness of the past few weeks will convince the Steelers to avoid such nonsense in the future by simply making the team physician treating the injured player available to the media or at least having that phsyician issue a brief written report on such matters.

Key matchup: Steelers front seven vs. Chargers offensive line

Because: We’ve seen flashes of the old James Harrison the past few weeks and saw literal flashes of Troy Polamalu flying around last week and it’s time for the splash play to return to the top-ranked defense this week. That’s because as the Steelers seem to be improving defensively, the Chargers are dealing with the loss of not one, not two, but three offensive line starters last week, including both tackles. Pittsburgh has to jump on those three guys right away in this game and not let up. Phillip Rivers looks skittish, as is. Get a few hits and a turnover on him in the first quarter and this could go south quickly for San Diego. Conversely, if Pittsburgh can’t disrupt anything early and all those guys get a chance to feel settled in, look out.

Quick hits:

+ As we’ve been saying for three weeks, the Steelers have a decent to good chance of making the AFC playoffs as the #6 seed with a 2-2 record down the stretch doing the trick, as long as one of those two wins is against Cincinnati. The prospects for rallying to win the AFC North and get the #4 seed and a first-round home playoff game are considerably longer. We don’t believe there’s any way Pittsburgh can win an 11-5 tiebreaker with the Ravens (meaning PIT runs the table, BAL goes 2-2) so the “best” Steelers scenario would be: PIT goes 3-1 beating CIN, CIN goes 3-1 beating BAL, BAL goes 1-3, all finish at 10-6, Steelers win tiebreaker #1, best pct. record among three teams. The good folks over at have cranked up their computers again this week and now list an 11 percent chance of that scenario unfolding.

+ It’ll be interested to see what happens with Plaxico Burress this weekend. On the surface, it would seem the likely return of Jericho Cotchery moves Plax back to #5 on the depth chart and will make him inactive for the game. But we’re wondering if the Steelers might not give Cotchery one more week of rest to see if there’s any red zone chemistry left between #7 and #80. That doesn’t sound like a very Steelers-like thing to do, but we’ll mention it anyway.

+ The news that Ike Taylor suffered a broken ankle (hairline fracture) and not a high-ankle sprain is the best injury news Pittsburgh has gotten in a long time. While, on the surface, that might sound counterintuitive (how can a break be better than a sprain?), in this case it’s all about the effects of the injury. A hairline fracture involves healing (ossification) and pain tolerance to return to play, but there’s very little swelling, which reduces movement. On the other hand, many athletes who suffer high ankle sprains “feel” like they can play a few weeks after but find the swelling won’t dissipate and they can’t make the cuts necessary to play. In this case, we’re guessing, this will be a 2-3 week injury now, instead of a 4-5 week one.

+ You know whose name hasn’t been mentioned in this blog (or many others) for a few weeks? Lamarr Woodley’s. Just a year ago, we were raving about Woodley as a three-down linebacker with the heart of a champion. But it’s been nothing but a series of recurring hamstring injuries (coupled with an inevitable drop in production) for the former second-round pick since. And it’s getting to the point where Jason Worilds, who is finally showing flashes of high-level play in his third NFL season, seems like a better option. But we think that’s a short-term perception. Keep in mind that Woodley is signed for four more years and James Harrison is due $10 million next year unless his contract is renegoatiated.

The pick: We’re violating one of our own rules in this week’s pick and this is “predict future behavior based on past results.” Well, nothing about this Steelers season so far suggests we’ll see a second straight impressive win, but that’s what we’re forecasting. We really believe this is the week we’ll find out if the Steelers are ready to ascend as a serious contender in the AFC or merely hanging around as a pretender. And that starts with hanging onto the football on offense, pressuring Phillip Rivers and the injury-riddle Chargers offensive line early, scoring touchdowns instead of field goals and then running the football in the second half. That’s the formula for capitalizing on last week’s emotional win. It will require a big play from Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders or Mike Wallace early and a lot of Jonathan Dwyer late with some James Harrison and Troy Polamalu mixed in liberally. We want it. We need it. We expect it … Steelers 27-10.

Last week: We were gladly wrong about Charlie Batch’s arm and the Steelers chances in Baltimore (although we nailed the projected line at -8!) to fall to 8-4 on the year against the spread.

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