Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
Even though the Steelers are 7.5 point favorites in this game, expect a competitive battle that will likely be determined on turnovers.
Time Is On My Side
Despite the fact Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers is 23-4 in the month of December, the fact the Chargers have to uproot and move two time zones away - thus playing the game at 10 a.m. PT - is one thing, but the brutal five hour flight they took on Saturday followed by regular practice and the like as well as the early game Sunday won't be any kind of a factor for the Chargers. The Steelers, on the other hand, are more than comfortable. You saw how the Steelers played against Oakland in Week 3 - and that was a game that started later in the day for them.
Paint It, Black
The Steelers at home are a much more cohesive and aggressive team. The black jerseys go on in Heinz Field, they're ruthlessly efficient, or at least when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is on the field. The Steelers are 15-3 since 2010 in home games in which Ben Roethlisberger starts. In the not-often situations in which the Steelers blow another team out, they come at home against teams outside the AFC North.
The Last Time
The Steelers and Chargers faced each other in Pittsburgh in 2008, and battled to the league's first-ever 11-10 score - Pittsburgh coming out on top (it wasn't the last time they played, but it was the most memorable recent regular season game). The Steelers dominated the game top to bottom, but were flagged 13 times, as opposed to zero from the Chargers. Every game will have a flag or two that fans will be upset about, but it's rare when one team is penalized so often and the other isn't penalized at all. Those kinds of games play into the Steelers' favor - you may remember the 35-3 thrashing they put on Oakland in 2010 when the officials refused to get the game under control. The Steelers likely remember that - even when they took a last-second Troy Polamalu touchdown off the board simply because they weren't paying attention.
Steelers tight end (and Virginia product, both college and state) Heath Miller is coming off arguably the finest performance of his career. His reward? Face what could be his toughest match-up of the year. Chargers safety Eric Weddle is likely a starter for the AFC in the Pro Bowl, and one of two safeties on the 2012 NFL All Pro team. It's hard to tell whether he's more adept in coverage of tight ends (much bigger than him) or running backs (much faster than him) but he simply does not give up many yards. He also has not faced a tight end who's as dominant of an all-around player as Miller is. Whether they have Weddle on Miller or not, it's Miller's game to have. Expect Miller to win the battle in the shorter field, and while Weddle may not give up much, the attention he'll have to pay to Miller can open up the top of the Chargers' otherwise limited pass coverage unit.
Let it Bleed
The Steelers have won 14 consecutive games against the Chargers in Pittsburgh. The Steelers last lost to the Chargers in 2006, but that's not what's important here. The Chargers are losing to everyone. Dropping seven of their last eight games, this team is reeling right now, and doesn't have any kind of sense of the kind of team that can close out tight games. With all due respect to Ray Rice, that 4th-and-29 run is a defensive collapse, not the mystical, legendary run some would like it to be. Two Chargers defenders were forcing Rice out wide, and a third defender came in and knocked all three of them to the ground (including himself). San Diego can't make those kinds of plays, so the Steelers simply can lean on them, protect the ball and outlast them.