Titans-Chargers: Throwaway Game No More, Christmas Battle Should Be Intense

Dave StanleyCorrespondent IDecember 24, 2009

SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 06:  LaDainian Tomlinson #21 of the San Diego Chargers jumps toward the end zone en route to a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans during their AFC Wild Card Playoff Game at Qualcomm Stadium on January 6, 2008 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

When the Tennessee Titans and San Diego Chargers were 0-5 and 2-3, respectively, few would have thought their Christmas day matchup would be interesting.

At best, it would serve as white noise on the television for you to pretend to pay attention to as the overcooked ham made its way towards your plate.

However, since those dark days of October, both teams are a combined 16-1.  

Both have also changed their initially dour playoff prognoses dramatically.  

San Diego, on the one hand, is in the playoffs. At this point, they're fighting to lock up the No. 2 seed in the AFC.  

Tennessee, on the other hand, is trying to finish up an improbable in-season comeback and make the playoffs after a miserable 0-6 start.  

So, yes, the specifics of their battles and goals may be different.

But both have much to play for, and you can count on a playoff-like intensity.  

Here's a gander at some of the key areas to watch tomorrow.


Chris Johnson's Relentless Pursuit

It's no secret that all of the Titans want to get Chris Johnson to 2,000 yards and beyond. This is always potentially bad news, considering that you're essentially telling the opposing team what you're going to be doing.  

However, defenses have been keying on Johnson all year, to no avail. The Chargers rank 21st against the run and have looked vulnerable at times.  

For instance, the Dallas Cowboys moved the ball with ease against them on the ground a few weeks ago.  

Of course, we now know that it was actually getting it in the end zone that proved to be problematic, but that's more of an indictment of the Cowboys than it is a compliment for the Chargers.

Expect CJ to get his 100-plus yards. However, don't look for him to shatter any records. Why? Because the smart money says that the Titans will have to move to the pass later in the game, because...


Tennessee's Linebacker Woes

Simply put, San Diego is scary good on offense. Their receivers are tall, athletic, fast, tall, smart, tall...

Did I mention they were tall? Oh, and they also have great hands.

Throw in the fact that linebacking stalwarts Keith Bulluck and David Thornton are now out for the season, and things begin to look bad for the Tennessee defense. However, the secondary has been getting better and better this season. In fact, they almost look like the Pro Bowl unit that they were last year. So all is not lost.

The key here will be whether or not the Titans can get pressure on Philip Rivers. But if he has time to find his receivers, then the Titans actually might need Johnson to have that career day.


Vince Young's Confidence

Much is made of Young's resurgence this season. From his running to his composure to his arm, he's by all counts the Vince Young that the Titans' front office, coaches, and fans thought he'd be.  

But the one thing that has impressed the most in his mini-comeback has been his accuracy. He has been able to put the ball wherever he wants to as of late.  

As long as he stays healthy and his previous two injuries (knee, hamstring) don't affect him, he should give the San Diego defense fits.  

In addition, that newfound confidence will be crucial if Rivers and Co. have their way with the Tennessee defense. I'm not exactly sure if the Titans can keep pace in a shootout, but a smart, creative, and heady Young will be key to them having a shot to begin with.


So, who wins? Pound for pound, I think this is an even matchup. However, Tennessee absolutely has to win the turnover battle. They're simply not strong enough to overcome mistakes against a team of the Chargers' caliber.  

But if the Titans play their game (think the first half last week against Miami), then they should come out victorious.  

If they shoot themselves in the foot, though, then rest assured that San Diego is good enough to make them pay.

At any rate, who knew, back in October, that there would be this much to talk about regarding this matchup?

These two sure keep it interesting, indeed.