Green Bay Packers @ San Diego Chargers Preview
Every year, the San Diego Chargers struggle with turnovers, penalties and loss of personnel. Yet every year, they are considered major contenders to win the AFC.
This year, Peter King of Sports Illustrated picked them to win the AFC. PredictionMachine.com had them the single most likely team to win their conference.
I understand that you have to make the playoffs to win your conference. I understand them being the pick in their weak division—the Chargers' flaws led me to pick the Kansas City Chiefs in my AFC West preview, but the Chiefs flaws led me to back off of that statement before the seasons started.
But even if you knew Peyton Manning was not going to play for the Colts, whoever won the AFC East and North was going to be better than the Chargers. Even wild card teams from those divisions might be.
That means to even get to the Super Bowl, the Chargers were going to have to beat one or two teams better than them. That requires a team that knows how to get things done in January, not one that consistently fails. It requires better coaching and discipline than the Chargers have.
The Chargers are in a similar situation in trying to beat the Packers this week. They are in shambles after blowing two games in a row and are banged up coming off a short week.
Green Bay is 4-1 under Mike McCarthy coming off a bye, and the coaches and players are too focused for a letdown. That far outweighs any home-field advantage, giving Green Bay a sizable edge in miscellaneous factors Sunday.
Packers Passing Game vs. Chargers Pass Defense: Advantage Packers
Instead, I will simply mention how ridiculously biased Brett Favre apologist Skip Bayless is to not even put him in the Top Three right now—behind the guy he out-played and beat in the Super Bowl, behind the guy he beat in the season opener...
Stop telling me about Rodgers struggles in his first season as a starter. He accounted for 32 scores and 16 turnovers. The team struggled not because of Rodgers, but because the defense was awful.
Stop telling me Favre would have gotten the Packers a Super Bowl sooner. Based on what? His one over the course of 18 years in the league?
Stop telling me about Rodgers costly turnover that ended the his first playoff game in a loss. There were two uncalled penalties on that play and he threw for over 400 yards!
In fact, please stop telling me anything. How is it fair that the "sports leader" has paid this person millions of dollars to offer opinions that are so often wrong?
So concludes my resentment rant. For sensible people, there is no need to outline Rodgers' superiority. Even those who reasonably do not consider him the best take that stance because of the quality of his receivers, meaning the Packers have the advantage over any team they play.
The Chargers appear to have a pretty good pass defense, ranking fourth in yards per game and tied for 10th in interceptions. However, they are in the bottom half of the league in opponent passer rating and in the bottom quarter of the league in sacks.
Packers Running Game vs. Chargers Run Defense: Slight Advantage, Packers
The Packers only run the ball to keep teams honest, and average under 100 yards per game (24th in the league). But both top backs get over four yards per carry and give the team what it takes to wear down opponents.
The Chargers are among the worst teams in the league in yards per carry against (4.4) and allow almost 120 yards per game. They are banged up.
When the Packers are picking their spots to run, the backs will get their yards. Later in the game when Green Bay tries to run out the clock, they will do well to average two yards per carry.
Chargers Passing Game vs. Packers Pass Defense: Even
Philip Rivers is much better than he has been playing. As a result, the Chargers have been a bad passing team so far this season.
Thus, instead of relying on their numbers, the best thing to do is look at their talent. He has enough around him to be successful, with a number of great targets including Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson.
This is more about the Packers defense. It is famously listed second-worst against the pass, but yards are the worst indicator of a team's abilities—remember the Chargers had the top offense and defense last year and could not make the playoffs in a bad division.
Green Bay ranks ninth in opponent passer rating because only one team has more interceptions. The Packers rank in the middle of the league in sacks, and that is a major reason they give up fewer points than all but nine teams in the NFL even though the offense leads in scoring.
Rivers will get his yards, but he has to avoid the mistakes or this will be over quickly. Green Bay will force at least one turnover, but Rivers has shown enough leadership in the past to expect him to rise to the occasion this week.
Chargers Running Game vs. Packers Run Defense: Even
The San Diego Chargers rank 13th in rushing yards but average just four yards per carry. However, leading rusher Ryan Matthews has 509 yards and is averaging 4.6 per carry.
The Packers run defense is in the top half of the league in both yards per game (99.9) and per carry (3.8). They are vulnerable when facing good backs, but linebackers swarm to the ball well and linemen hold their lanes. Both B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett hold the point of attack, almost forcing teams to run at undersized ends C.J. Wilson or Jarius Wynn, but their rotation keeps them fresh.
Special Teams: Even
Neither team has great special teams. Both were terrible last year and made cast improvements.
Mason Crosby has not missed a field goal this year, and Nick Novak has missed just one from 50-plus.
Tim Masthy has not been as pinpoint in getting punts downed inside the 20 as last year and his coverage help is not very good, leading to a net under 35 yards. Mike Scifres has yet to have a touchback and has one of the top averages in the NFL, off-setting the poor coverage.
Thus, while the Chargers returners are pretty good, their coverage gives up more than they get in both kicks and punts. That is only true on punts for the Packers, but there is no appreciable edge to either team.
Prediction: Packers 27, Chargers 23
The Packers rank higher than San Diego in nearly every component: Coaching, pass defense (not yards, but the important stats), pass offense, and run defense. There is no appreciable edge in run offense or special teams for either side.
Green Bay is playing well and San Diego is not. The Chargers are more banged up than the Packers.
This game has the makings of a blowout, but desperate teams that expect to make the playoffs have a way of coming up for the big games. Green Bay carries a target on its back as the only unbeaten team and as the Super Bowl champion, and frankly does not need this game.
That makes this look like a San Diego upset. But the Chargers are just not quite good enough to close this one, and Green Bay does not let down its guard. They keep the Chargers out of the end zone on a potential game-winning drive and come away with a narrow victory.