Injuries to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Willie Parker have sapped some of the strength from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Roethlisberger's sore right shoulder has limited his practice time and his production has decreased, but he will play today when the Steelers host the San Diego Chargers.
Pittsburgh, 6-3 straight up and 4-5 against the spread, has lost two of its past three games, and both losses came at home.
In a meeting of AFC teams in need of a win, handicapper Kelso Sturgeon said he is siding with the Steelers as 41/2-point favorites over the "schizophrenic" Chargers.
"I never got very high on the Steelers before the season when the pundits were saying they were serious Super Bowl contenders. Yes, they had a standout quarterback in Roethlisberger and they had a standout running back in Parker," Sturgeon said.
"Forgotten in all the hoopla was the obvious fact that Pittsburgh had a suspect offensive line. A weak offensive line means your entire offense is at risk, your quarterback can get killed and your running back is in a duck-and-run mode every time he handles the football."
Roethlisberger trailed only New England's Tom Brady in passer rating last season. He is 25th this season with a 76.0 rating and tied for second in the NFL with 11 interceptions. In his last 10 quarters, Roethlisberger has thrown one touchdown pass while getting intercepted eight times and sacked 10 times.
The running back position has been decimated by injuries, but Parker plans to return from a shoulder injury today. Parker and Roethlisberger will be operating behind an offensive line that has allowed an AFC-high 31 sacks.
"Despite all of these factors, I like the Steelers to get an easy win and cover against a Chargers team that is the biggest bust of the season," said Sturgeon (kelsosportshandicapping.com).
"The Chargers are a split personality team -- respectable one week and playing like skunks the next. These men have no focus, bring no intensity to the start of their games and for the most part appear to be going through the motions and taking home a paycheck."
San Diego (4-5) has lost two of its past three, and last week had to stop a 2-point conversion to get past a bad Kansas City team, 20-19. The Chargers rank last in the league in pass defense, and the Steelers are No. 1 in total defense.
"It is difficult to believe the Steelers would lose three straight at home. I don't think they will," Sturgeon said.
"They have the edge that more often than not determines the outcome of a game -- a good passing game and an outstanding pass defense. It is a statistical fact that the team that wins and covers in the NFL is the team that has a decent passing game and a lockdown pass defense."
Sturgeon analyzes the rest of today's Week 11 schedule:
• Denver at Atlanta (-61/2): The Broncos are the luckiest 5-4 team in the NFL, with four wins coming by an average of 2.5 points. A little bad luck here, a little bad luck there and they are 1-8. My money says the Broncos, who are playing their second straight road game, will run out of luck here. Atlanta (6-3) should use the power running of Michael Turner (98.9 yards per game) to control the ball against a Denver defense that can't stop the Little Sisters of Mercy.
• Oakland at Miami (-10): This one looks almost too easy. The Dolphins (5-4) are going for their fourth straight win and should get it against an Oakland team that has only 16 points in its past three games. Miami has an outstanding 1-2 punch at running back with Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown, and these guys should have a field day against a Raiders defense ranked 29th against the run, allowing 158.1 yards per game.
• Baltimore at New York Giants (-7): Digging beyond the obvious, this line is about as soft as it can get. Baltimore's 6-3 record has come against teams with a combined record of 17-37, including two wins over Cleveland. Then there's Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco starting in a stadium where the winds can be treacherous. I'll side with the Giants (8-1) and their experienced quarterback, Eli Manning.
• Houston at Indianapolis (-71/2): I have no interest in this game, but some smart money showed under the total when it was 511/2. The question now is whether value remains with the number at 50. The Colts are showing improvement on both sides of the ball as Peyton Manning and safety Bob Sanders get healthier.
• Tennessee (-3) at Jacksonville: As they say on Wall Street, trees don't grow to the sky, and my figures say the Titans (9-0) are about to take a fall after 12 consecutive regular-season wins. These teams opened the season against each other, and Tennessee won 17-10 at Nashville. While the Jaguars beat a terrible Detroit team 38-14 last week, they showed signs of playing up to preseason expectations. The figures say the 'dog gets the money.
• Chicago at Green Bay (-31/2): The home field in Green Bay must be worth 31/2 points because this is a dead even matchup. The Bears (5-4) are meeting a 4-5 Green Bay team that has lost two straight and five of seven. Kyle Orton gets the call at quarterback for the Bears, and he is surrounded by far more offensive talent than Packers starter Aaron Rodgers. For the record, Chicago has won six of its past eight against Green Bay.
• Philadelphia (-9) at Cincinnati: The Eagles (5-4) are not in a desperate situation yet but are on their way. The Bengals, who were 0-8 before beating Jacksonville, have won two games in a row only once in the past two seasons. I could not bet on this game with counterfeit money.
• New Orleans (-5) at Kansas City: The Saints (4-5) are one of the NFL's biggest underachievers. They're winless on the road and are again without Reggie Bush. This is not to suggest Kansas City (1-8) is a world beater, but the Chiefs' young talent is getting up to speed, having lost the past three games by a total of eight points. Larry Johnson returns and gives the Chiefs the extra punch to cover.
• Detroit at Carolina (-14): The Lions arrive in Charlotte, N.C., with an 0-9 record, they are an amazingly inept 1-15 dating to last season, and it's only going to get worse. NFL scouts say the Lions are the worst-coached team they have ever seen. No one, including double-talking coach Rod Marinelli, has a clue. That makes Detroit a sitting duck for a 7-2 Carolina team that is on its way.
• Minnesota at Tampa Bay (-31/2): Something has to give in this game, and I think I know what it is. Minnesota (5-4) is going for its third straight win and again will be counting on the running of Adrian Peterson. In his past four games, he has averaged 140.1 yards, but let's read between the lines. Three of those opponents were bottom feeders in rushing defense. Against the Bucs (6-3), Peterson is facing a defense that has allowed an average of 69 yards on the ground at home. I'll side with the Bucs.
• St. Louis at San Francisco (-61/2): Both teams are 2-7 straight up and 3-6 against the spread, but that's all they have in common. The 49ers played with tremendous intensity in a 29-24 loss at Arizona on Monday. This means they've bought in to new coach Mike Singletary's program and might be as tough as nails for the rest of the season. Don't tell me coaches don't make a difference. As for the Rams, they are again without running back Steven Jackson (thigh bruise), and his absence is the final nail in the coffin.
• Arizona (-3) at Seattle: It's do or die for the Seahawks (2-7), who will get a big boost with the return of starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and wide receiver Deion Branch. Both might be rusty, but they will make the field much wider and force the Arizona defense to spread out. Without Hasselbeck, the Seahawks averaged only 260 yards.
• Dallas (-11/2) at Washington: If I played the game, I would have to side with Dallas because quarterback Tony Romo returns and Washington will be without running back Clinton Portis. However, for whatever the reason, I feel uncomfortable with this game and will pass.
Compiled by Review-Journal sportswriter Matt Youmans.