The Pittsburgh Steelers don't have Big Ben this week, but the return of Martavis Bryant could be the key to beating the San Diego Chargers and Monday's NFL odds.
Jason's 2015 record as of Oct. 7: 16-9 ATS; 0-1 ML (-1.00 units); 10-13 Total
This isn't the way the Pittsburgh Steelers had things drawn up. They lost their Pro Bowl center, Maurkice Pouncey. They lost their top two place-kickers, then got rid of their third. Worst of all, QB “Big Ben” Roethlisberger is out with a sprained knee. And it's only Week 5.
How about some good news for Steelers fans? Roethlisberger is said to be recovering quickly from his sprained MCL/bone bruise, and is already off crutches. He could be back by Week 8. Too long to wait? Pittsburgh WR Martavis Bryant will make his season debut this Monday night (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) against the San Diego Chargers. That makes the Steelers a compelling choice as 4-point road dogs on our NFL odds board.
My Favorite Martavis
Bryant's a very interesting character. Pittsburgh drafted him in the fourth round last year out of Clemson, after Bryant helped the Tigers pull off the Orange Bowl upset over Ohio State (–2.5). He wasn't activated until Week 7 last year, but Bryant still racked up eight touchdowns on 26 catches, and was named Pittsburgh's Rookie of the Year for 2014.
It'll be another late start for Bryant this year. He was suspended for the first four games after violating the league's substance-abuse policy, but Bryant is ready to go for Week 5, and he comes back against a Chargers team that ranks No. 19 overall in pass defense, according to the DVOA charts at Football Outsiders. That should help Michael Vick and the Steelers convert some more of those third downs.
The Boswell Incident
Converting some more field goals would make Pittsburgh a better NFL pick, too. Josh Scobee was given the boot after he shanked another pair of figgies in last week's 23-20 overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens (–3 away), leaving him at 6-for-12 on the season. Chris Boswell is next on the kicking carousel; he went undrafted out of Rice last year and got in some action as a punter for the Houston Texans. Then the New York Giants gave Boswell a spin in training camp before letting him go.
Boswell will have a grand old time trying to navigate the swirling winds at Heinz Field. But this week, they're playing at The Q, and the weather report for San Diego looks quite lovely, thank you. Not so lovely: San Diego's offensive line, although center Chris Watt (groin) was back at practice on Thursday. The Chargers rank No. 25 in run blocking and No. 24 in pass protection through Week 4, according to Football Outsiders, and Pittsburgh's defensive front has already racked up 14 sacks this year. Give us the Steelers for a smallish bet, just in case Boswell gets the yips.
Free NFL Pick: Take the Steelers +4 (+117) at The Greek