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What a difference six weeks make. What looked like a prime-time gem at the beginning of the year has lost its luster ahead of the Sunday night matchup between the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers.
For the former, last week's home loss to the then-winless Broncos sent L.A. below .500 and on the outside looking in of the AFC playoff field. The Steelers' playoff chances died when Ben Roethlisberger went down in Week 2, and their chances Sunday took a bigger hit when Mason Rudolph suffered a major head injury in last week's overtime loss to Baltimore.
Here's everything you need to know about the matchup from a betting perspective:
The Chargers opened as 5.5-point favorites and reached -7 on Wednesday, two days before the Steelers named backup Devlin Hodges the Sunday starter. Pittsburgh has seen late buyback at some books but remains a seven-point underdog at theScore Bet in New Jersey. The total is 41, down from a 43.5 opening.
Los Angeles has rightfully been criticized for playing to the level of its competition over the years (see: Week 5). As a big favorite, though, L.A. has been stellar. The Chargers are 9-5-2 against the spread (64.3%) and 15-1 straight up (93.8%) under Anthony Lynn when favored by at least 6.5 points, and they're 34-22-1 ATS (60.7%) when giving six or more at home in the Philip Rivers era.
The Steelers are undefeated ATS in starts without Roethlisberger, and Mike Tomlin has been a solid bet coming off a straight-up loss. Yet he's just 4-7 ATS (36.4%) and 1-10 SU (9.1%) all time as a six-point underdog and the nature of last week's loss could hamper Pittsburgh in this game.
Since 2015, six-point underdogs or bigger coming off an overtime loss are 4-10 ATS and 2-12 SU, including 1-5 in their last six. The Steelers have also struggled after facing the rival Ravens. Since Baltimore's Super Bowl-winning season in 2012, Pittsburgh is 5-9 ATS in games following a matchup against the Ravens.
Oddly enough, the Chargers are 19-8 ATS since 2004 after facing the Broncos and 5-2 ATS after a home loss to Denver. Lynn is also 10-5-1 ATS overall following an ATS loss.
The story of Sunday's game is Hodges, who'll make his first career start on the road under the Sunday night lights. The undrafted rookie was cut in the offseason and signed to Pittsburgh's practice squad in Week 2 before a roster promotion after the Big Ben injury.
He finished with the 18th-highest passing grade in Week 5, per Pro Football Focus, with relatively risk-free football - his 7.56 yards per attempt ranks 19th among all quarterbacks with at least five attempts. He'll have to test the Chargers more Sunday, especially if the Steelers fall behind early.
Look, this is a gross matchup. There's no way around it. The recent history of these teams can't override an undrafted rookie starting against an underwhelming unit that probably shouldn't be giving a touchdown to all but five teams.
This version of Pittsburgh is one of those five. If L.A. can avoid turning the ball over, it should be able to seize an early lead against an opportunistic but vulnerable Steelers defense, forcing Hodges to mount an unlikely comeback. Hold your nose and take the points, especially if you can grab -6.5 before kickoff.
C Jackson Cowart is a betting writer for theScore. He's an award-winning journalist with stops at The Charlotte Observer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Times Herald-Record, and BetChicago. He's also a proud graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and his love of sweet tea is rivaled only by that of a juicy prop bet. Find him on Twitter @CJacksonCowart.