The San Diego Chargers will look to keep their undefeated preseason record intact when they battle the San Francisco 49ers (2-1) in the finale. Even though both coaching staffs will insist the records don't mean much, they should be happy with the progress that's been made.
San Diego comes off a season which started and ended well, but in the middle was a six-game losing streak that ultimately doomed its playoff chances. Consistency has been a common problem under Norv Turner, and that will need to change in the improved AFC West.
As for the 49ers, things couldn't have gone much better last season. After a surprising 13-3 record in the regular season, they took the eventual champion New York Giants to overtime in the playoffs. Now comes the tough part of trying to match or exceed that success.
Here's a glance at the key information for Thursday's clash followed by a couple things to watch for as each team puts the finishing touches on preparations for the regular season.
Which team will win?
Where: Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Calif.
When: Thursday, Aug. 30 at 10:05 p.m. ET
Watch: KFMB (San Diego) or KPIX (San Francisco)
Radio: KIOZ 105.3 FM (Chargers) or KSAN 107.7 FM (49ers)
Live Stream: Preseason Live
What's At Stake?
There are two objectives for all teams in the final preseason game. The most important one is walking away from the game without any major injuries, and the other one is evaluating depth players to see who will make the opening day roster.
The starting units will likely see minimal playing time, if any, to limit the chance anybody gets hurt. It's too late in the process to get backups fully prepared to start should a key injury occur, so neither side will be taking much risk.
It's far from a meaningless game, though. Plenty of players will be playing for a spot on the team or better placement on the depth chart, and Thursday's game serves as their last chance to make an impact.
Key Injuries (via CBS Sports)
Chargers: Ryan Mathews (out, shoulder), Vincent Brown (out, ankle), Melvin Ingram (questionable, thigh) and Eddie Royal (questionable, leg/groin)
49ers: Brandon Jacobs (questionable, knee), Ted Ginn (questionable, ankle), LaMichael James (questionable, ankle), Delanie Walker (questionable, knee) and Aldon Smith (questionable, hip)
What They're Saying
Chargers starting running back Ryan Mathews won't play in the final preseason game, but has been making progress when it comes to his injured shoulder, according to Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
"He was using a lot of big words," Mathews said. "But he said everything is going good. He said just be patient with it.
"It's right where I thought it would be. In two weeks, a bone is not going to be completely healed. But knowing my body, I think it's going right where it's supposed to be and it's going faster than normal."
The 49ers' dominant defense was the main reason they were able to surprise so many people last season, but the unit didn't play up to its usual high standards against the Denver Broncos. Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle reports head coach Jim Harbaugh is looking into the errors.
"There was some spotty play," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "I thought we gave up some easy yardage and found ourselves for whatever reason not in good football position when it came to making a tackle or break-up. So fundamental type of things we’ll look at."
Chargers Player to Watch: Ronnie Brown
Since Mathews' availability for the regular season opener against the Oakland Raiders remains up in the air, the Chargers have to prepare as if Brown will be the starter in Week 1. He has plenty of experience in that role from his time with the Miami Dolphins.
Brown doesn't feature the same level of playmaking ability he did in Miami, but he's still capable of leading the way for a couple weeks if Mathews can't go. The former second overall pick has looked fresh in limited preseason action.
Given the fact Mathews has missed time in each of his first two NFL seasons, Brown may become a much bigger part of the offense than was expected when the team first brought him in.
49ers Player to Watch: A.J. Jenkins
One position the 49ers made a concerted effort to improve during the offseason was wide receiver. Along with adding veterans Mario Manningham and Randy Moss, they used a first-round pick to select A.J. Jenkins from Illinois.
The rookie has been worked into the rotation slowly throughout the preseason, but will become a useful weapon for Alex Smith once the regular season begins. He should receive an extended look against the Chargers to prepare him for Week 1.
If Jenkins can make a smooth transition to the NFL, San Francisco's passing game should have no trouble making a big jump from last season.
Should fans be worried about the 49ers defense?
Key Matchup to Watch: Chargers aerial attack vs. 49ers pass defense
Peyton Manning was able to have some success against the usually reliable 49ers defensive backs last week, which leaves some room for improvement heading into Thursday's games. Even in limited snaps, the coaching staff will be looking for the group to bounce back.
That should make it a good test for the Chargers passing game, which lost a key piece in Vincent Jackson during the offseason. Malcom Floyd must step up and establish himself as a legitimate top target for Philip Rivers.
Even though both teams will likely stick with vanilla schemes throughout the game, it's the one matchup both head coaches should be paying a little extra attention to.
49ers 17, Chargers 14