Chargers (8-3) at Pittsburgh (7-3-1)
When Chargers have the ball
Philip Rivers threw 29 passes last week against Arizona and completed 28. Back in September, in a game at Cleveland, Pittsburgh limited Tyrod Taylor to a 15-for-40 performance. Taylor is not Rivers, but the Steelers aren’t the Cardinals, either. Pittsburgh is sixth in yards passing and total yards surrendered per game. The Steelers rank ninth against the run, and the Chargers will be trying to run without Melvin Gordon, who is out with a right knee injury. Gordon missed a game in October because of a hamstring problem. The Chargers had little success running that afternoon but beat Tennessee anyway. Austin Ekeler figures to get most of the snaps at running back and will have to provide his usual spark, plus some. Pittsburgh held seven consecutive opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing before giving up 179 (to Jacksonville) and 124 (to Denver) the last two games. The Steelers haven’t permitted a 300-yard passer since Joe Flacco in Week 4 and lead the NFL with 39 sacks. Rivers has four games with at least 300 yards passing this season. Given the expectations for the Chargers’ limping running attack, Rivers likely will need to be sharp — and prolific — in this game.
When Steelers have the ball
Antonio Brown has 11 touchdown receptions this year and an NFL-record five consecutive seasons with at least 100 catches. And he might not be Pittsburgh’s top receiver at the moment. Former USC star JuJu Smith-Schuster leads the Steelers with 77 catches for 1,055 yards. He is coming off a game in which he caught 13 passes for 189 yards. Entering Week 13, Ben Roethlisberger has 447 attempts, which lead the league by a wide margin and are 128 more than Rivers. He also was tied for second with 12 interceptions, a total that recently had critics questioning Roethlisberger’s accuracy and had him answering by insisting he’ll continue to “sling it.” The Chargers are tied for sixth with 11 interceptions. They also aren’t the only team in this matchup to be missing its No. 1 running back. Le’Veon Bell is sitting out 2018 in a contract dispute. His replacement, James Conner, is third in the NFL with 849 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. Conner has fumbled three times, but the Chargers have recovered only three opponent fumbles all season. Over the last eight games, the Chargers are tops in the NFL, giving up an average of 15.8 points. Pittsburgh has scored at least 17 points in all but one game.
When they kick
Rookie Michael Badgley has settled the Chargers’ rocky kicking game over the last few weeks. He is nine of nine on field goals and 16 of 17 on extra points, and his kickoffs have improved. There has been an internet movement to start calling Badgley “Money Badger,” though the nickname — unlike the kicker — has struggled to gain traction. Since joining the Steelers in 2015, Chris Boswell is 94 of 108 on field-goal attempts. That mark (87%) ranks second in franchise history among kickers with at least 30 tries.
Jeff Miller’s prediction
Only New England has a better home record than Pittsburgh since Heinz Field opened in 2001. The Steelers have won 72.7% of their games there. And they’ve been even more successful — 26-8, 76.5% — in home games played during prime time. That’s second to Seattle. The Chargers might catch a break if the weather forecast holds out. Temperatures Sunday night are expected to be in the low 50s with little chance of precipitation. But the Chargers will need more breaks than that.