After an energetic win over Indianapolis in the AFC Wild Card round, Chargers fans posting on the San Diego Union Tribune web site are predicting a victory over Pittsburgh in the Divisional round.
And a subsequent trip to Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII.
Shhh...don't tell the Steelers this. Not that they would care, but apparently, a win at home over Indianapolis is enough to wash their minds of an 11-10 loss to the Steelers in Week 11. The fans are saying the Chargers are a better team now, and that overrides the 410-213 yards gained disparity the Steelers owned.
Interestingly enough, they are leaving out the ridiculous 13-2 penalties against advantage the Chargers held in that game. Or the late Polamalu touchdown the officials took away. Or the fact Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger destroyed Phillip Rivers in their head-to-head match - Rivers posted a season-low 44 passer rating against Pittsburgh.
With all due respect to Indianapolis, it's really not a solid bet to think Darren Sproles is going to run over Pittsburgh the way he did the Colts. The Chargers had 66 yards rushing as a team in Week 11.
Ok, so the past is gone, and a regular season meeting doesn't really mean anything, win or lose. but the Steelers having a week to rest, and the Chargers having a week to get more injured (early reports are that RB LaDanian Tomlinson will not play) seems to favor the home team.
An early match-up to consider:
C Justin Hartwig vs. NT Jamal Williams
I love Jamal Williams, and he always seems to make any match-up column I'm writing, but this could be the first time I'm tilting the advantage to the Steelers. I haven't had the chance to watch the entire replay yet, but it looks like Colts C Jeff Saturday had some plus plays and some minus plays. He did a lot better than the Colts guards did, but Williams was usually double-teamed.
Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera brought a lot of pressure from the edge, oftentimes hedging his bets on Manning sliding protection to one side or the other. He left RB Joseph Addai in the backfield quite a bit, and he did a pretty good job of picking up the outside blitz. It's a big reason why the Colts surrended an NFL-low 14 sacks this year. Manning and Anthony Gonzalez had their way with the Chargers secondary early, but couldn't hold onto that momentum throughout the game.
Hartwig and Roethlisberger will have to communicate at a Manning-like pace to provide adequate protection. If they are able to do that (not an easy task), you can count on Hines Ward having seven or eight catches against a Chargers nickel defense that showed a few flaws. But this all hinges on Hartwig's ability to keep Williams at bay, because the Chargers came after the B and C gaps all game long. Guards Chris Kemoeatu and Darnell Stapleton are going to have to focus more this game than perhaps any other due to the variety of pressure the Chargers can bring.