QB Philip Rivers (Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty)
Talk about a game that can swing a season. With a win on Sunday, the Chargers claw back to .500 with a three-game homestand on deck. With a loss, the Chargers risk falling two games back in the AFC West with six to play. With that significance in mind, here's a look at the latest injury news, keys to the game and scoop from both camps.
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAME DATE: 11/16/08
TV: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms)
SERIES: 26th regular-season meeting. The Steelers lead the series, 19-6, but the Chargers have beaten the Steelers when it mattered most. Twice when playing each other in the postseason the Chargers prevailed. The most critical win came in the 1994 AFC Championship Game, when the Chargers were nine-point underdogs and won to advance to their lone Super Bowl.
PREDICTION: Steelers 27-21
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Chargers: The Chargers feel like their running game is close to hitting its stride, and they need RB LaDainian Tomlinson to make some headway against the league's second-ranked run defense. That's because the Steelers are ranked first against the pass. Pittsburgh has a league-best 34 sacks and will come after QB Philip Rivers if Tomlinson isn't effective. With the Steelers thin at cornerback, expect Rivers to avoid Pittsburgh best cover man CB Ike Taylor.
Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger has been able practice more this week, with the Steelers hoping that will increase the cohesiveness of the offense. Even better news is the expected return of RB Willie Parker. Roethlisberger has been sacked 28 times, while the lack of a pass rush is the primary reason the Chargers rank last in the league allowing 264.9 passing yards per game. New coordinator Ron Rivera will employ a lot of stunts and overloaded looks to attack a Steelers offensive line that often struggles picking up assignments.
Chargers: WR Chris Chambers (ankle) and CB Antonio Cromartie (hip) should play.
Steelers: CBs Bryant McFadden (broken arm) and Deshea Townsend (hamstring) and TE Heath Miller (ankle) are out; Parker (shoulder) will wear a harness; LT Marvel Smith (back) is uncertain.
FAST FACTS: The Chargers are 0-12 all-time in Pittsburgh in the regular season, but have won both their postseason meetings in the city. ... Roethlisberger is 24-8 (.750) lifetime at home.
-- CB Antonio Cromartie (hip) was able to work and is a go for Sunday.
-- OLB Marques Harris (hamstring) didn't work and could be compromised on Sunday - if he suits up. Harris plays on passing downs.
-- WR Buster Davis (groin) didn't work and it's unlikely he will be active on Sunday.
-- CB Cletis Gordon (knee) will miss at least the next two weeks.
-- S Steve Gregory (neck) was limited and has a chance to play Sunday.
-- DT Jamal Williams was given a rest day and will start Sunday.
--LB LaMarr Woodley returned to practice Thursday and should start Sunday. Woodley, second on the team with 9.5 sacks, missed last Sunday with a calf injury.
--CB Anthony Madison might play the nickel on Sunday instead of newcomer Fernando Bryant, signed on Tuesday.
--RB Mewelde Moore might handle the kickoff return duties if Willie Parker starts at running back, although Gary Russell did a decent job on kickoff returns last week.
--WR Santonio Holmes will remain as the punt returner, even if Mewelde Moore does not start. Holmes has increased his average return to 6.6 yards.
--TE Matt Spaeth will make his second straight start because of a high ankle sprain to Heath Miller. Spaeth caught six passes against the Colts.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The Chargers head to Pittsburgh on Sunday, hoping to take advantage of the Steelers' banged-up secondary.
The Chargers' deep corps of receivers against a questionable pass defense -- although ranked first in the NFL -- could be among the matchups leaning in the visitor's direction. That ranking is based primarily on the top-ranked pass defense.
Two of Pittsburgh's top three corners, Deshea Townsend and Bryant McFadden, aren't playing on Sunday because of injuries.
And the Chargers' receiving group got another boost Thursday when Chris Chambers went through a full practice without a hitch.
A sprained ankle, an injury that he sustained Oct. 5 in Miami, has bothered Chambers. He missed two games and was in a substitute role last Sunday when the Chargers beat the Chiefs.
Chambers, though, didn't have a catch against Kansas City. It marked but the third time in his eight-year career he played in a game and didn't record a catch.
Chambers, who came over from Miami last season in a midseason trade, has only 16 catches for 273 yards this year. But he has made his receptions count as five of them have resulted in touchdowns.
But Thursday could lead to a strong Sunday, as it was the first practice since he got hurt that he was able to start and finish.
Offensive tackle Marvel Smith will miss his fifth straight game with back problems, and nobody inside the Steelers is complaining anymore that they kept Max Starks.
Starks was signed to a one-year contract for nearly $7 million as the team's transitional player. That raised eyebrows not only outside the organization but was controversial within as well. It became more so when the coaching staff stuck with Willie Colon at right tackle, where Starks had started in 2005 and 2006.
But with Smith out, Starks has taken over at left tackle and not done badly, which is about as good as it gets in an offensive line that has not done well overall this season.
"I think he's done a solid job, all-in-all," coach Mike Tomlin said. "Collectively, as a group, we're not doing what we need to do, so nobody is performing great."
That is as strong as anyone on the team publicly has knocked the line that has undergone major changes over the past two seasons. It's most experienced lineman, right guard Kendall Simmons, was knocked out for the season early with an Achilles injury. Second-year man Darnell Stapleton replaced him. Justin Hartwig joined them in free agency to become their new center. Chris Kemoeatu took over for departed Alan Faneca at left guard.
Colon is the only starter left among the top five from season. And that won't be the end of it. Smith, Kemoeatu, Starks and Trai Essex all can become UFAs after the season and Colon will be a restricted free agent. Hartwig was signed to a two-year deal.