Tonight we get Week 15 (already?) of the NFL started with the San Fransisco 49ers traveling to San Diego to take on the Chargers.
This is a matchup of two teams who are still alive in both of their divisions, the AFC and NFC West.
The host Chargers (7-6) are one game back of Kansas City, who travels to take on the team above the 49ers in their division, the St. Louis Rams.
The 49ers (5-8), still have an outside shot of claiming the NFC West, but will probably have to win out to have any chance at the crown.
There is a lot riding on this game tonight for both teams, so let's look at the key matchups and how this game will shake out.
Who is Alex Smith?
We will start with the most lopsided comparison of any position tonight. For the Chargers, they send out Philip Rivers who is having a phenomenal year.
Rivers, who is ranked third in QB rating, has compiled over 3,800 passing yards to go along with 26 TDs. He is considered one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks and will not shy away from the spotlight tonight.
Then there is the 49ers QB, Alex Smith. The team is 2-6 this year when he starts for them, and it is almost that time for the team to pull the plug on him.
He just can not compete at a high level consistently and does not have the typical traits of a quarterback who can get it done in this league. He still only watches one route and relies too much on his check down targets while having trouble throwing the ball down the field on a consistent basis.
Can someone get Mr. Westbrook his wheelchair?
To create spaces for the passing game, most teams rely on a solid running game to keep opposing defenses on their heels.
The Chargers have three solid choices at running back with the combination of Mike Tolbert, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles.
With all three backs averaging over 4 yards a carry, this group has accounted for over 1,300 yards of rushing, 120 YPG and 13 TDs.
On the other side of the ball, San Fransisco trots out aging veteran Brian Westbrook and rookie Anthony Dixon.
The 49ers top rusher, Frank Gore, is done for the year with a fractured hip suffered in Week 12.
Westbrook and Dixon will have to have their best legs tonight, as they go up against a defense that is in the top-5 in rushing yards allowed (only 91 yards/game)
Get away from me, please.
The Chargers have been banged up all year at the wide receiver and tight end position.
With injuries to Malcolm Floyd and Antonio Gates, coupled with the Vincent Jackson holdout, you would think this team would be struggling to find its way all year.
But, Philip Rivers can make the most out of anything and has been doing so all year. It doesn't matter who is running the routes tonight, whether its Randy McMichael or Buster Davis, Rivers will find a way to find them.
This area is believed to be one of the 49ers main strengths as a team. With Pro Bowler Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan and deep threat Ted Ginn, this offense was expected to do some damage.
But no matter the arsenal of weapons the 49ers have, they still need someone to hit the numbers on their chest. Combining Davis, Crabtree and Morgan's catches and targets, they have made 123 catches, but have been targeted 222 times.
That's a catch percentage of only 55.4%, a number that shows the inconsistencies of the 49ers passing attack.
Plan on Jammin' all night long.
With this slide, I will take a look at each team's defense as a whole unit.
The Chargers defense has been phenomenal this year. They lead the NFL in passing yards, are fourth in rush yards and first overall in total defense. They give up only 19.5 points/game, but have only created 19 turnovers so far this year.
They operate with a base 3-4 defense and know how to give opposing teams trouble executing on offense. With little-known big-name talent, the Chargers understand its not about the names, but about how you play as a whole, and they do that quite well.
San Fransisco's defense was suppose to be what helped them take the next step to becoming an elite team this year. With names like Patrick Willis, Aubrayo Franklin, Manny Lawson and Nate Clements, you would expect this defensive unit to consistently live up to their high expectations.
But that just has not happened like they were hoping this year.
Ranked in the bottom half of every major defensive category, the area that sticks out the most heading into tonight is their pass defense which ranks 20th in the NFL.
With Patrick Willis questionable for tonight, I would expect Philip Rivers to take full advantage of a depleted secondary tonight.
Who is catching my TD's tonight?
The 49ers-Chargers game starts at approximately 8:30, but this game could be over by halftime.
Each team knows what this game means to them tonight, but I just don't see where the 49ers have an edge on the Chargers in this ballgame.
The Chargers know if they can string these last three games together they will have a strong chance to win their division and make the playoffs.
With Philip Rivers playing at a Pro Bowl level and facing a depleted 49ers team, this game has all the makings of an MVP night for the All-Pro quarterback.
Prediction: Chargers 38 49ers 17