Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thursday Night Preview: Chargers, Niners treading Water

Two teams try to keep their playoffs hopes alive on a short week..

Thursday night’s game between the San Diego Chargers (7-6) and San Francisco 49ers (5-8) is one of great importance to both clubs, however, only because of the divisions they play in.

If either team were in any other division, they’d be eliminated from the playoffs.

The AFC and NFC West are the two weakest divisions in football, and the two teams squaring off Thursday night are fighting to tread water in them.

49ers tnpAfter starting a dismal 0-5 and giving the Carolina Panthers their only win of the year, the 49ers are somehow still in contention to take their division. San Francisco trails the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks – neither of whom are above .500 - for the NFC West title.

The similarities between the Niners and Chargers – other than that they’re both from California – is that each has had to overcome a slow start to fight for a playoff berth. The Niners have won their last 5 of 8 and the Chargers have won 5 of 6 after a 2-5 start.

This year’s been somewhat of the norm for San Diego, who seem to be sluggish every September and October. However, there’s one major difference between this year and years past.

They’re used to taking control of their division by now.

Instead, after getting swept by the Oakland Raiders two weeks ago, the Chargers find their playoff destiny out of their control. If they can secure a win on Thursday, their eyes will then be set on Sunday’s matchup between the AFC West leading Chiefs and NFC West leading Rams.

The 49ers will be watching the battle of Missouri this Sunday as well. A win Thursday and a Rams loss this weekend would inch them closer to a division title and an improbable playoff berth. However, beating the Chargers would be a steep task.

philip rivers "Obviously San Diego has been in that situation the last few years and somehow, at this time of year, they ignite," said 49ers coach, Mike Singletary. "We have to go through them in order to get where we want to go. That is a tremendous challenge."

San Diego may be only 7-6 but they're not short on talent. They’ve stayed at the top of the league in both total offense and total defense for nearly the entire year. Their defense currently ranks 1st in the league in fewest yards allowed per game (265) while their offense racks up the second most yards (286.2).

Meanwhile, San Francisco has shuffled between Troy Smith and Alex Smith at the  quarterback position, either of which is a severe mismatch going against MVP-candidate Philip Rivers. Rivers has thrown for more yards (3,868) and touchdowns (26) as well as less interceptions (11) than both Smiths combined (2832 yds/16 tds/12 ints). 

The 49ers have also placed their best player, running back; Frank Gore, on season-ending injured reserve.

While both the Niners and Chargers were favored to win their divisions in the pre-season, it was for much different reasons. San Diego was seen as a threat to win the Super Bowl and the 49ers were favored more by default – being the most talented team in a very weak division.

Despite being just one game over .500, San Diego is a legitimate threat to do damage in the post-season while San Francisco, if they get there, is sure to be one and done.

The Chargers also have a lot more riding on this game. If the Chargers lose on Thursday, they’d essentially be knocked out of the playoffs. At that point they would trail the Chiefs by a game even if they did lose to the Rams.

On the other hand, the Niners would still have a chance even at 5-9, albeit a slim one. A 7-9 record could still win the NFC West and San Francisco will play St. Louis a visit in Week 16 and the lowly Cardinals in Week 17.

Both teams may be in similar situations, but the Chargers are the superior team. Expect them to handle the Niners going away.

San Diego over San Francisco (31-10)

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