TV: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms)
SERIES: 29th meeting, 3rd in the playoffs. The Steelers lead the regular-season series 20-6, but they are 0-2 in the playoffs. Oddly, both playoff losses came in Pittsburgh, where the Chargers are 0-13 in the regular season. The Chargers beat them in the AFC championship game after the 1994 season and in the first game of the AFC tournament after the strike-shortened 1982 season. The Steelers beat the Chargers 11-10 in Heinz Field on Nov. 16.
PREDICTION: Steelers 24-17
KEYS TO THE GAME:
RB Darren Sproles
Steelers: QB Ben Roethlisberger wasn't playing particularly well even before he suffered a concussion in the regular-season finale. He said there are no lingering side effects, but look for the Steelers to do their best to get their sporadic running game untracked out of the gate. RB Willie Parker should get plenty of early carries to help ease Roethlisberger into the game and keep San Diego honest defensively. The Chargers are applying more pressure under coordinator Ron Rivera, and poor protection has led to a steady diet of big hits for Roethlisberger all season.
Chargers: TE Antonio Gates (ankle) will play; Tomlinson (groin) declared himself doubtful and will be a game-time decision.
FAST FACTS: Sproles' 328 total yards last weekend was the third-highest single-game total in postseason history. ... Steelers WR Hines Ward needs 159 receiving yards to pass John Stallworth (1,054) for franchise's career postseason record.
RB LaDainian Tomlinson
-- TE Antonio Gates (groin) didn't practice Thursday and won't work on Friday. He will start Sunday but could be compromised.
-- K Nate Kaeding (groin) didn't practice Thursday after working on Wednesday. He will kick though on Sunday.
-- LB Brandon Siler (foot) went through practice Thursday and will be available Sunday.
-- DT Jamal Williams worked Thursday after taking his usual rest day Wednesday. He will start Sunday.
--QB Ben Roethlisberger was a full participate again during Thursday's practice and doesn't appear to have any lingering effects from the concussion he suffered in the regular-season finale.
--WR Hines Ward needs 12 yards receiving to pass Lynn Swann (907) and 159 to pass John Stallworth (1,054) to become the Steelers' leading career post-season receiver.
--RB Willie Parker is coming off a 115-yard game against Cleveland and says he's as healthy as he's been since the start of the season. He had a sprained MCL in the third game and a dislocated shoulder at mid-season.
--WR Nate Washington, No. 3 on the depth chart, has the Steelers' three longest receptions of the season, and four of the top five - 65, two for 50 and one of 48.
--KR Gary Russell has the team's four longest kickoff returns, all since Nov. 9.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
With LaDainian Tomlinson ailing and Darren Sproles hoping to coax another big game out of his 5-foot-6, 181-pound frame, Michael Bennett could be in for a busy Sunday in the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Steelers.
Bennett came to the Chargers in mid-November, a waiver pickup from the Buccaneers. Bennett thought he was headed to an AFC West team, just not one hugging the Mexican border.
RB Michael Bennett
"I definitely thought about that," Bennett said of a Denver destination. "But to come in here and be accepted by all the guys -- this is a great locker room with a great group of leaders on the team. It feels like home and I am grateful for the opportunity."
The eight-year pro promises to make the most of it Sunday.
He was forced into action last week, getting his first carries in a Chargers uniform. He had four rushes for 24 yards and looked good hitting the hole.
"I'm preparing like I'm going to start the game and whatever role they have for me to take during the course of the day I will take it," Bennett said. "I have to prepare well and make sure I'm on top of the things we are going to run offense."
Bennett has the credentials. He has been a Pro Bowl selection and rushed for 1,000 yards in a season.
And he doesn't seem overwhelmed about the task at hand - going to Pittsburgh and upset the Steelers.
"My thing is I've been in league for eight years and been in a lot of playoff games," Bennett said of his five postseason contests. "And time I think that helps."
The Chargers will take all the help they can get - especially with Tomlinson being little more than a game-day cheerleader.
The Steelers' offense racked up 410 total yards in the first meeting, but wasn't able to reach the end zone. Pittsburgh's points in an 11-10 win came on a safety and three Jeff Reed field goals.
Pittsburgh got a taste of the Chargers' improved defense under coordinator Ron Rivera, who took over for fired Ted Cottrell following a 3-5 start.
QB Ben Roethlisberger
One of the clear differences under Rivera is San Diego's defense isn't making as many changes, and there's a clear emphasis on ratcheting up the pass rush. Considering the number of shots Roethlisberger has taken throughout the season, that's certainly a concern.
"They brought quite a bit of pressure," Roethlisberger said of the first meeting. "We expect the same thing. That's kind of been their M.O. recently. Bringing people and using their athletes in the secondary to cover. We have to be on our P's and Q's and be ready for it as a line and a unit. We are going to have to be ready for everything.
It all points to Pittsburgh trying to emphasize the ground game early, especially with temperatures expected to be below freezing.
"As a quarterback you don't like it, but if it helps the team that's all that matters," Roethlisberger said of the weather. "I don't care how my stats are as long as we win."