The Chargers will battle to control their destiny in attaining a first round bye as they head to Memphis to face the infamous Titans tomorrow. As everyone knows, both teams are "red hot" and motivated to win this game. Many of the NFL experts are picking Tenessee to win and be the current 7-7 team to separate from the pack and make the playoffs. Vegas has the Titans favored by three.
So despite all the recent success, the Chargers are once again the underdog. Hopefully the lack of respect is motivating them on this short week of practice and game planning late in the season. This game will be close and may come down to who wants it more as both teams (all teams) are banged up at this point in the season.
The biggest injury of the game is linebacker Keith Bullock, who is out for the season after last week. He is the Titans' leading tackler and just an absolute beast in the middle of the field. Outside linebacker David Thorton is also out. Two rookies will make their first NFL starts in their stead.
Strangely, the Chargers' running game will actually be a big factor in this game. With these important defensive players out for the Titans, San Diego should try to control the game more than they have in the past, keeping the amazing Chris Johnson off the field. Eating clock time may be the only way to keep Johnson from having a huge game.
The passing game should work as well for San Diego. The Titans have been getting burned all year, but playing in the cold on their home turf should make them tougher to throw on than the Chargers might guess.
On defense, San Diego needs to focus (as every other team has tried) all its energies on stopping Chris Johnson. While San Diego's run defense has not been great this year, its athletic linebackers and DB's should have a better chance than most teams of cutting off the field and limiting big plays. The Chargers are more vulnerable to power running games than speedy ones.
Shawne Merriman, while not coming up with many tackles or any sacks lately, has actually become a more and more disruptive force each week, cutting off the outside on sweeps and pushing offensive linemen into the face of the quarterback. He is motivated by the dirty play of the Titans that blew out his knee two years ago and should have a big game.
Vince Young has shown steady improvement this year, but he's still no Dan Marino. The Chargers need to limit his scrambling and rushing ability, but Young is not good enough yet to beat them with a precision passing game. Even in last week's big win against Miami, Young only completed 50% of his passes.
If the Chargers have had enough time to prepare well and recover from last week's game they should win this one. If they do, they will REALLY get the attention of the national media going into the playoffs.
Chargers 31, Titans 24