The Panthers (4-9) shocked the league last weekend when they beat the Atlanta Falcons, beasts of the NFC so far this season, in a 30-20 victory. Though Cam Newton may be in a sophomore slump by some standards, he dazzled with an air and ground combination that put up 287 passing yards, 116 rushing yards and three total touchdowns.
On the other hand, San Diego traveled to Pittsburgh and picked up a big 34-24 win on the road in a tough environment. Quarterback Philip Rivers showed poise against a stiff defense by tossing three touchdown passes and no interceptions, while bringing his team to 5-8 on the year.
Let's take a look at everything you need to know for this cross-conference battle.
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.
When: Sunday, December 16, 4:05 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL.com
Injury Report (via CBS Sports, as of Dec. 12)
Panthers: James Anderson (questionable, back), Jeff Byers (questionable, back), Dwan Edwards (questionable, wrist), Charles Godfrey (questionable, back), Brandon LaFell (questionable, toe), Greg Olsen (probable, back), Jonathan Stewart (doubtful, ankle)
Chargers: Donald Butler (out, groin), Tyronne Green (doubtful, hamstring), Jarret Johnson (probable, back), Corey Lynch (probable, quadriceps), Dante Rosario (probable, hamstring), Eddie Royal (out, hamstring), Darrell Stuckey (probable, hamstring)
What's at Stake?
Both of these teams are on the outside looking in as far as playoff potential, but there's always plenty to play for at this point in the season.
After hitting a losing spell early in the season, the Panthers have now won two of three and have a chance to string together some wins. Doing so would give the team more hope for 2013 and help to erase bad memories from earlier in the year.
The Chargers have a chance to finish out the season at .500, but that won't give them any hope of making the postseason.
Carolina QB Cam Newton
Though he didn't get off to the start that was expected, it's apparently time to stop the "sophomore slump" talk about Newton.
Newton has tossed 10 touchdowns in the Panthers' last five games. He can also add three rushing scores and two straight games with over 75 yards rushing.
He also faces a favorable matchup against the Chargers, who have struggled against the pass this season. They've been stout against the run, which will force Newton to make plays with his arm and outside the pocket. This will bump up his fantasy stats considerably for another big day.
San Diego RB Ryan Mathews
Chargers coaches proved last week that they still believe in Ryan Mathews. The running back carried the ball 25 times for 65 yards in a game in which San Diego needed a strong rushing presence.
While 65 yards doesn't exactly make for a huge fantasy day, their trust in him with 20-plus carries shows that he'll get a similar amount of chances next week.
The Panthers have struggled against the run—they're 21st in the league—and that will allow Mathews more room to run. Expect the Chargers to award him with some goal-line carries against the Panthers.
What They're Saying
The job status of Chargers coach Norv Turner has been a hot topic this season, as his team has once again failed to meet expectations. News came out last week that Turner had been fired before the Chargers organization published their own statement saying those reports were false.
After arguably San Diego's biggest win of the season, the Chargers' official Twitter feed noted a shocking stat about Turner that might help him gain some fans.
Norv Turner first Chargers Head Coach to win in Pittsburgh during the regular season. EVER. #SDvsPIT— San Diego Chargers (@chargers) December 9, 2012
Regardless of that feat, Turner's days may be numbered in San Diego.
Key Matchup: Philip Rivers vs. Panthers Defensive Backs
It's no secret that Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has had interception troubles in his career. He's tossed 15 picks this year after notching 20 in the previous season.
But after a strong performance with no interceptions (that doesn't come around very often for Rivers), he could be turning over a new leaf.
Against the Panthers, who are far from an elite pass defense, Rivers will need to prove that he doesn't have a knack for putting the ball in opposing players' hands.
As good as the Panthers looked at times last weekend against the Falcons, part of that game gave me an indication that Atlanta was flat more than Carolina was on fire.
On the other hand, San Diego looked like a well-built machine in Pittsburgh, and that trend is more likely to continue against a shaky Panthers team.
Chargers 30, Panthers 24