It's that time again:

There are seven weeks and 111 games remaining in the National Football League season. Of those 111 games, there's a good chance 60 will be labeled "must-win'' by somebody. It's one of the most over-used phrases in sports as people attempt to insert undue importance to a particular game.

But the phrase very much applies to the Steelers' game this afternoon at Heinz Field against the San Diego Chargers. There's no doubt about it:

The Steelers must win this game.

In normal circumstances, a visit from a team with the San Diego's recent resume would not rate "must-win'' status. The Chargers are 4-5 with their previous win being by one point over hapless Kansas City. This is their fourth trip this season to the Eastern time zone and they've lost the three previous games -- Carolina, Miami and Buffalo.

But these are not normal times for the Steelers. Their offense is ranked 26th in the NFL and, worse, 24th in rushing. The offense will continue to play without three starters -- tight end Heath Miller, left tackle Marvel Smith and right guard Kendall Simmons. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a full week of practice but he's in the midst of his worst NFL season. He's 25th in the league in passer rating at 76.0 and is second in interceptions. In his past three games, he has thrown eight interceptions. Running back Willie Parker returns after missing five of the past six games. He's an improvement over Mewelde Moore, but his effectiveness after such a long layoff and wearing a shoulder harness remains to be determined.

What's more, starting cornerback Bryant McFadden will miss the game as will the player who replaced him, Deshea Townsend. The Steelers are down to their fourth cornerback, William Gay, as they take on the quarterback with the second-highest passer rating in the NFL, Philip Rivers, who has thrown for 21 touchdowns.

Beyond that, the Steelers have lost their previous two games at Heinz Field.

If all that weren't enough to make the Chargers look dangerous, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin did his usual selling job on the opponent. At his weekly news conference he made the Chargers sound more like the Monsters of the Midway than a losing team from the weak AFC West Division.

"Philip Rivers is playing great Football,'' he said. "We'll have our hands full in terms of dealing with him.

"Of course, the guy he hands the ball off to, LaDainian Tomlinson, is arguably the best in the world at what he does.''

Actually, Tomlinson, who's a future Hall of Famer, is in the midst of a mediocre season. He's 11th in the league in rushing at 70 yards a game.

If the Steelers No. 1-ranked defense can handle Rivers, and that won't be easy with their depleted secondary, they can handle the Chargers.

What they have going for them is a chance to go after what is the 26th-ranked defense in the NFL. The Chargers look to be a team that Roethlisberger and Parker can get better against.

It's imperative they do so.

Once lightly regarded Baltimore moved into a tie for first in the AFC North with the Steelers last week by virtue of its win against Houston and the Steelers' loss to Indianapolis. The Ravens have the look of a worthy challenger, although they've played a light schedule. Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco is doing more than managing the game. He has thrown more passes and completed more than Roethlisberger for a higher percentage and has a better rating. The Baltimore defense, thought to be too old, has the look of still being too good. Only the Tennessee Titans and New York Jets have a better point differential in the AFC than the Ravens.

That's why the Steelers need this game so badly. The Ravens are in East Rutherford, N.J., today to play the New York Giants , which looks like a near-certain loss. A win against the Chargers again will give the Steelers the lead.

After that, the comparative schedules don't read all that differently.

Sure, the Ravens have the Eagles, at home, after the Giants, while the Steelers play pathetic Cincinnati. But beyond that, the Steelers must play at New England, at Baltimore and at Tennessee around a home game with Dallas. The Ravens final four games are Cincinnati, at Washington, the Steelers -- who they've beaten five consecutive times at home -- and Cleveland.

The game the Steelers can pick up today with a win over the Chargers is the game that could win them the division and put them into the playoffs.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: November 16, 2008