AFC Divisional Playoff Preview: San Diego Chargers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh enters the playoffs as the second seed after finishing with a 12-4 record and Champions of the AFC North. San Diego on the other hand, faced a must win game two weeks ago against the Denver Broncos in order to get into the playoffs as the NFC West Champions. The Chargers had no problems defeating the Broncos and winning the division over Denver due to the fact that San Diego had a better conference record.
The Chargers entered the playoffs as the fourth seed after winning their respective division at a five hundred record of 8-8. This would set up another memorable match up between the fifth seed Indianapolis Colts and the fourth seed San Diego Chargers.
The Chargers would once again prove to be too much for the Colts as the Chargers won in overtime off a Darren Sproles 22-yard touchdown run making the final score 23-17. Sproles proved to be the difference maker after rushing for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
San Diego is one of the hottest teams playing as of now winning five straight games including their playoff victory. The Chargers will definitely be ready to go against the Steelers this weekend with the key match up being the Charger offense against the Steeler defense. The Chargers offense this season has scored an average of 27.4 points per game which ranks second in the league and eleventh in total yardage per game at 349.
On the other side of the ball, the Steelers defense ranks as the best in the league. Pittsburgh ranks first in points allowed per game at 13.9, yards per game at 237.2, and passing yards per game at 156.9. They also rank second in the league in rushing yards allowed per game at 80.2. If San Diego is going to win, they must be able to move the ball effectively through the air and keep their turnovers to a minimum.
The Chargers can not afford to turn the ball over since they are playing in the cold weather of Pittsburgh and points might be hard to come by.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who has thrown for 3,301 yards at a completion percentage of 59.9 with 17 touchdowns thrown and 15 interceptions. Roethlisberger should be ready to go in this weekend’s game after suffering a concussion two weeks ago in their season finale against the Cleveland Browns. For some unknown reason, Roethlisberger was still playing quarterback halfway through the game.
There was no reason for him to still be playing due to the fact that Pittsburgh had already locked up the AFC North and they were guaranteed the second seed in the playoffs. The Steelers had nothing to gain and they risked injuring their star player for no reason at all. Luckily for the Steelers, the injury was not serious and Roethlisberger should be the starting quarterback come game time.
The Steelers running attack is led by Willie Parker who has 210 rushes on the season for 791 yards and five touchdowns. The Steelers also use Mewelde Moore in the running game, which has proven to be just as effective. Moore has accumulated 140 rushes on the season for 588 yards and five touchdowns.
On the receiving end of the ball, the Steelers are led by no other than Hines Ward who led the team in receptions with 81 for 1,043 yards and seven touchdowns. Santonio Holmes is next in line with 55 receptions for 821 yards and five touchdowns. Heath Miller, the tight end, has also played a key role in the Pittsburgh offense catching 48 passes for 514 yards and three touchdowns during the season.
But the real strength of the Pittsburgh Steelers lies in their defense and one of their big play makers in Troy Polamalu. The Steeler defense has a total of 20 interceptions and 51 sacks on the season. Troy Polamalu leads the team in interceptions with 7 while James Farrior leads the team in total tackles with 133.
James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley have combined for 28 total sacks, which is more than half of the team total for sacks. The Steelers defense has proven to be the dominate force in the NFL this season and if they play up to their potential they should have no problem against the San Diego Chargers.
The Chargers on the other hand, have proved that they belong in the playoffs after winning their final four regular season games and the AFC West division championship. The Chargers also proved to all the critics that they belong in the playoffs despite their mediocre record by beating the Indianapolis Colts in overtime last weekend.
San Diego is led by quarterback Philip Rivers who has thrown for 4,009 yards at a 65.3% completion percentage with 34 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. Rivers will need to be on his game and not force passes against the Steelers defense if the Chargers have any chance of winning.
LaDainian Tomlinson leads the Chargers running attack with 292 rushes for 1,110 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Chargers will also use Darren Sproles from time to time to give LT a breather during the game. Sproles has a total of 61 rushes for 330 yards and one touchdown for the season. Sproles also helped led the Chargers on to victory after running for 105 yards with two touchdowns in their Wild Card win over the Colts.
The Chargers are very balanced on the receiving side of the ball with three receivers having over 50 receptions during the season. Antonio Gates leads the team in receptions with 60 for 704 yards and 8 touchdowns while Vincent Jackson is a close second with 59 receptions for 1,098 yards and 7 touchdowns. Tomlinson also has over 50 receptions with 52 for 426 yards and one touchdown. Chris Chambers, Malcom Floyd, and Darren Sproles have also combined for 89 receptions and 14 touchdowns.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Chargers are not very strong but have been playing just as well as anyone in the league as of late. Eric Weddle leads the team in tackles with 127 while Shaun Phillips and Jyles Tucker have combined for 14 of San Diego’s 28 total sacks. Stephen Cooper leads the team in interceptions with four while Antonio Cromartie and Antoine Cason each have two interceptions and a touchdown.
If this game is anything like the game during week 11 between these two teams then we are in store for a real treat. In week 11, these two teams faced each other in a very low scoring game. The Steelers came out victorious by a score of 11-10 with the help of three field goals by kicker Jeff Reed. Late in the game, the Steelers moved the ball down the field, which set up a 32-yard field goal for Reed who put Pittsburgh ahead with just 15 seconds remaining.
Pittsburgh may have the advantage on paper, but I believe that the San Diego "Super" Chargers have what it takes to get the victory in Pittsburgh. The Chargers are hot right now and I’m calling another San Diego victory this weekend. The Charger offense will prove to be too strong for the Pittsburgh defense and the Charger will be well on their way to the Super Bowl.
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