Today's game against the Kansas City Chiefs is one of those franchise defining moments. Win, and the Chiefs' division lead suddenly isn't so solid with starting QB Matt Cassel likely hurting for the next couple weeks. Lose, and Chargers' season is over. Fans will start with the "AJ is a fraud" calls, "fire Norv", evolving into the "let them move to LA anyway" nuclear option.
This game means everything.
As I said in my last post, I think last week's game was a bit of a perfect storm for the Chargers unlikely to be repeated this week. The Raiders ran all over the Chargers and the Chiefs are coming to town with the NFL's number one rushing attack, but the Raiders' particular brand of power running exposes the Chargers' weaknesses directly. The Chiefs, on the other hand, rely a bit more on speed than power. Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones are great backs, but they usually don't run people over. The Chargers undersized safeties and quick linebackers should be able to bring them down.
The Chargers' defensive line will be the key this week. Antonio Garay hurt his ankle in last week's game and returned to action but seemed ineffective. Can he play at a high level this week? In the first match-up he dominated Chiefs center Casey Whigham. At the defensive ends, Jacques Cesaire and Luis Castillo were consistently controlled. Those two have to rebound. If they don't and the Chargers lose? Don't expect them to be around next season. Either way, defensive end will have to be a point of focus this offseason.
On offense, I expect Rivers to rebound. The guy is just too good to hold down two weeks in a row. If Vincent Jackson doesn't get a hang-nail, he should help the Chargers stretch the defense for other receivers to get open if nothing else. The Chargers also need step up and run the ball. This may be Ryan Mathews' only chance to show his rookie season wasn't a bust. The Chiefs defense has been good, but they're not as stout and strong as the Raiders were last week. The Chargers, if properly motivated can go toe-to-toe with these guys and push them around.
Ultimately, even though the Chiefs haven't asked Matt Cassel to do too much this season, he's been the key in playing incredibly efficiently and make smart decisions when it mattered. Back-up Brodie Croyle simply won't be able to do that if the Chargers put pressure on him by making it close or taking a lead. As long as San Diego avoids more horrendous special teams mistakes, they will win this game.
Chargers 27, Chiefs 9