Despite all the turmoil and dashed expectations this season, the Chargers took care of business the last two weeks and at 4-3 are positioned to challenge the New York Giants in a big game that will come with a bit of a playoff-like atmosphere for both teams. Many Charger fans have been unhappy with this season, but I still remember all lean years when there were no "important" games because the team was so bad it never had a chance of doing anything (anyone remember starting QB Babe Laufennberg?)
The perennially strong Giants have been reeling of late with a 5-3 record but having lost their last three games. The run defense and pass defense against the long ball has been terrible. Eli Manning has been forced in to some come from behind situations and has thrown many picks in the last few games. The Chargers should be able to take advantage of this weakened defense if they continue to play at the level they have the past few weeks. Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd and Antonio Gates need to have big games.
We'll get a chance to see if the slightly improved running game of San Diego is real or just a mirage created by the Chiefs and Raiders. If San Diego can run the ball at all the Chargers have a strong chance of winning today. If the Giants start playing more like they did earlier in the season and in the past few years, forcing Rivers into third and long situations? Look for lots of sacks, fumbles and interceptions going against San Diego.
The Chargers, including Shawne Merriman, say their defense in "back" as they stopped the run, pass and had a few sacks against the Raiders and Chiefs last week. I tend to think they aren't seeing the reality of how soft this defense has become yet, but today will be true test. If the Chargers can have a good game against the strong running and passing game of New York in their house, they are "back." The Chargers face the problem of both Tim Dobbins and Kevin Burnett being out at middle linebacker. Third year player Brandon Siler will get his first NFL start. He's a tough guy, but I don't think he has the physical gifts or experience to consistently stuff the run. All this points to a big game on the ground for the Giants.
If New York can control the ball and time of possession, this game will look a lot like the Steelers game for San Diego. I tend to think the Giants will be able to score, so it will be up to Rivers to have a great game to keep it close, hoping for a few big plays from the defense to turn the tide in the end.
This game is a true test for the Chargers, if Dobbins was in, I would give them the benefit of the doubt. Because he's not, I'm going to give the Giants the nod:
Giants 38, Chargers 31
If I'm wrong and San Diego does win? We all may look back and say this was a true turning point for the season. With Broncos playing the Steelers monday night, San Diego could be right back in the hunt for the AFC West title.