NFL Sunday Night Football Preview

Pittsburgh Steelers at Los Angeles Chargers, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC

Pittsburgh Steelers+6.5 (-110)+230O 41.5 (-110)
Los Angeles Chargers-6.5 (-110)-295U 41.5 (-110)

When the Steelers and Chargers met at Heinz Field last December, the visitors emerged with a 33-30 victory in what was a very exciting game. However, the encore at Dignity Health Sports Park on Sunday, October 13 promises to be different in at least one significant way.

Smith-Schuster will face plenty of pressure

Pittsburgh’s offense went from bad to worse with the loss of backup quarterback Mason Rudolph (concussion) following a scary hit in last Sunday’s game against the Ravens. Devlin Hodges, who went 7-of-9 for 68 yards in relief last week, has been named the starter against Los Angeles. He doesn’t have much to work with on an offense that’s currently 22nd in points per game. Wide receiver James Washington (shoulder) won’t suit up for this one and tight end Vance McDonald (shoulder) is questionable, suggesting JuJu Smith-Schuster will have trouble getting open against the Chargers’ eighth-rated defense by passing yards allowed per game.

Running back James Conner has been disappointing in his first year as the unquestioned No. 1 on the roster, rushing for a mere 3.3 yards per carry on 58 attempts. Pittsburgh needs him to step up with a third-string signal caller out there. Conner faces the NFL’s 18th-ranked run stoppers by yards per game in this one.

L.A.’s offense has come up short in the red zone

L.A. has managed to average the third-most time of possession per game (32:47) despite not having much of a run game (24th by yards per contest). The Chargers have been operating a West-Coast style offense effectively with Philip Rivers under center and wide-out Keenan Allen and running back Austin Ekeler catching short passes in bunches, at least until they get to the red zone. L.A. is a modest 24th in TD conversion percentage inside the 20-yard line at 47.1 percent. By contrast, the Steelers’ defense is third in this corresponding defensive category, allowing opponents to convert just 38.9 percent of their red-zone trips into TDs.

The trends don’t contradict the stats that suggest Under bettors will cash in here. Pittsburgh has gone below the total in five of their last six conference games while the Under is 4-1 in L.A.’s last five home games.

Pick: Under 41.5

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