Much of the speculation in the build up to the Christmas night battle between the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans has been devoted to the possibility of the Chargers looking beyond Week 16. This is certainly not the case. The Chargers are not looking past this game, nor are they thinking about possible playoff opponents—not just yet anyway.
Friday night’s game will be personal. It's a war, and the smoke and mirrors defence that has been getting the Chargers by in previous weeks will step up.
So where do I find reasons for placing such confidence in a much maligned defence that has trouble getting off the field on 3rd down and gives up an average of 117 yards on the ground?
The 2007 game between these teams in which Shawne Merriman was blatantly injured by a cheap shot will serve as motivation and has already added extra spice to a game that requires no hype. Merriman alleged that the Titans targeted him in retaliation for a late hit on Vince Young that almost knocked the young quarterback unconscious. Linebackers have long memories and tend to hold grudges; it is no secret that Merriman is the heart and soul of the Chargers defence, and his influence over his teammates on both sides of the ball is great.
I fully expect aggressive play calling from Ron Rivera early and often in order to take advantage of the emotion that the Chargers will bring. A healthy Shaun Phillips has taken large strides in recent weeks in his recovery from a nagging ankle injury, and his ability to get to Vince Young will be crucial for the Chargers to find success on Friday night.
The playoff implications for both teams are huge. Second seed in the AFC and a first round bye are on the line for San Diego, whilst Tennessee is playing for their playoff lives. This is a very winnable game for the Chargers since the Titans are missing key personnel on the defence, and the recent success the Chargers have enjoyed against their AFC foe (8-3 against conference opponents) will add extra confidence to a team that has a winning swagger that not too many other teams can currently boast.
The Chargers are riding an avalanche of momentum through the month of December with Philip Rivers improving to an amazing 16-0 career record in the month. To finish off his favourite month, he is confronted with a suspect secondary that will struggle to contain the tall trio of Gates, Floyd, and Jackson.
Many are waiting for Ladanian Tomlinson to have a break out game and put the 30 plus talk to bed. Tomlinson and Darren Sproles have had little support from an offensive line that has sustained injury after injury. It is Week 16, but the opportunity for that breakout game has arrived since the Titans have placed both linebackers Keith Bulluck and Dave Thornton on IR this past week.
Coach Turner will attempt to start the offense hot on Friday night and force the Titans to play catch up all game long. If Rivers can create explosive plays without turning the ball over, it will prevent Chris Johnson from handling the ball and eliminate the Titans primary offensive weapon. The game will then be in the capable hands of LT so that he can run the clock and the Titans playoffs chances down to 00:00.
Chargers by eight.