The ’04 Class Reunion

AFC Game Of The Week

Los Angeles Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers

Chargers: The AFC right now as a whole is the much more competitive conference between the two and right now, they would be the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs if everything were to start today. At one time, the Los Angeles Chargers were one of the hottest teams in the NFL winning six games in a row including a big win on the road against the Seattle Seahawks a few weeks back. When you think the streak will continue, they drop a game they had no business losing and that’s exactly what happened to them when the streak snapped against Denver. They bounced back in a big way against the Cardinals (which is easy to do) and now, they have an 8-3 record with five games to play. Even as he gets older, Philip Rivers continues to play well, and this is his 15th season in the league. What I enjoy about their offense is everyone contributes in some way. They can run the ball with Melvin Gordon who’s made a very nice name for himself, when healthy, Keenan Allen is one of the better wide receivers in the NFL, Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin all round out a receiving core with some depth and they all bring something to the table. Their defense finally got their guy back at the right time for the most important month of the season with Joey Bosa finally getting back on the field. Now that I think of it, I like this Chargers defensive line they have four guys in Ingram and Bosa who are the pass rushers of course, but in the middle, Brandon Mebane is a guy that can clog up the lanes. This is a big game for them on Sunday night if they want to remain in this playoff picture.

Steelers: From the moment they stepped foot out on the field in Denver, I knew it wouldn’t be an easy one for them especially playing on the road and Mile High has never been an easy place to play. They lost a close game and their seven-game winning streak came to an end after Ben threw an interception in the red area in a short yardage situation (Didn’t they learn anything from last year?) To be perfectly honest, I felt they should’ve lost their game in Jacksonville against the Jaguars because they even struggled with them once again as they have over the years. Here’s how the shuffling effect took place in the AFC after losing in Denver. Coming into the day, the Steelers came in as the two seed behind the Kansas City Chiefs. Now, they’ve dropped down to the four with New England moving up to the two and remember that they have another big showdown with those Patriots in a few weeks. I know they’ve been good, but there are a few things they can tighten up if they want to make that run in the playoffs and the first thing is ball security because James Conner is running a little too loose with the ball and you have to hold onto it and next is their secondary which continues to give up big play after big play on a regular basis. Despite that, the Steelers are still in first place with a record of 7-3-1 in the AFC North. Just when you were ready to give up on them, they’ve improved, especially when it comes to stopping the run on defense and getting after the quarterback. They return home for a huge game in the AFC on Sunday night.

Chargers Player To Watch: Travis Benjamin– As I’ve said in previous weeks, every football team has a guy who’s specialty is moving the chains and that’s what this guy does and then some. I love the way the Chargers offense uses him. He’s the quickest of the Chargers receivers so he can separate quickly at the line of scrimmage to release and run his route, he stretches the field and Rivers knows he can just throw the ball up and he’ll come down with it. He can also be used on a lot of reverses.

Steelers Player To Watch: Vince Williams– Since the Ryan Shazier injury, it’s been a collective effort to replace him and the linebacking core has really improved. It always starts in the middle and he must be on his game on Sunday night whether it’s stopping the run, making tackles in space, getting to the quarterback or even dropping back in coverage.

Final Analysis: When I saw this game was on the upcoming schedule a few weeks back, I automatically said to myself this will get flexed because of everything that this game means in the conference. If the postseason were to start today, this would be a matchup in the Wild Card round, so we could be seeing a preview of what’s to come. I was really looking forward to seeing a battle of two young running backs in Conner and Gordon, but Gordon will miss a few games because of an MCL injury. The Steelers must take better care of the football because turning the ball over four times as they did in their last game won’t result in a victory. The Chargers aren’t being taken seriously because of who they’ve defeated and a good portion of their eight wins have come against teams below .500 so to some, they have something to prove but the way I view it, you play who you play and beat who you beat. It’s key for Los Angeles to amp up the pass rush and make Ben Roethlisberger move to the left side of the pocket. I’d force him to get the ball out his hands quicker.

Prediction: Steelers 34 Chargers 24