Chargers Set To Play On Thursday Night

It’s a random Thursday in December. It’s also GAMEDAY. It’s a battle between the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers which will go a long way to deciding which teams win their respective divisions. You know, the classic battle between a 5-8 team and a 7-6 team that could decide the outcome in two different divisions in Week 15 of the NFL season. Motivation will not be an issue, so here’s what you should watch for in the game tonight.

This game is essentially a MUST WIN for the Chargers and the 49ers. People, for some reason, keep holding on to the 49ers as the most likely NFC West Division Winner. I just do not see it. But, last week the 49ers hung 40 on the Seahawks, but it's hard to imagine the lowly 49ers having the same success in San Diego, on a short week. Most of the 49ers offense came on short and intermediate completions that turned into big plays because the Seachickens didn’t tackle.

Nevertheless, they are an NFL team and the Chargers would be remiss to take them lightly.

Here are some things to watch for in the game tonight.

SNEAKY BRIAN WESTBROOK

When Frank Gore went down in Week 12, 49ers coach Mike Singletary finally decided to use one of the most productive backs of all time. Brian Westbrook came in on Monday Night Football and rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown. Last week, Westbrook was very active in the passing game, catching six balls for 87 yards and a touchdown. While the Chargers run defense recovered from a terrible week against the Raiders, this is an area that will have me on the edge of the couch while watching the game.

THAT ‘WE MUST PROTECT THIS HOUSE’ GUY

Vernon Davis is a freak athlete at any position, especially Tight End. He gained national notoriety coming out of the University of Maryland with his numbers at the NFL combine and by being featured in the Under Armor commercials. Without Frank Gore, the Niners have relied on Davis even more. Davis is another player who can catch a short pass and turn it into six points quickly, as evidenced by his 42-yard touchdown last week.

JOE STALEY OUT AT LEFT TACKLE

The Niners’ starting left tackle, Joe Staley has been out since Week 10 with a broken leg. This will be the best pass rush the Niners have faced in several weeks. If the Chargers get out to an early lead and force the Niners to throw, look for the linebackers to have a heyday with Alex Smith back there. The Bolts are tied for second in the league with 38 sacks on the season.

VINCENT JACKSON TOUCHDOWN

With Gates likely OUT and Floyd still recovering, this will be the week Vincent Jackson gets his first touchdown for the Chargers this season. The Chiefs bracketed him with 3 defenders most of the game. The 49ers may employ the same tactics, but Jackson showed he can still make strong-handed catches in traffic. The Niners rank 22nd in pass defense and the Chargers will be able to move the ball down field.

ANTOINE CASON RETURNING KICKS?

Cason sure looks like a better option returning kicks. The improvement in Chargers’ special teams play continues and I feel better about the opportunity of a consistent returns with Cason fielding kicks than Darren Sproles. The Chargers should save Sproles for making plays against the linebackers.

The 49ers are an inferior team, have a short week, have to travel, have to play in Qualcomm at night, have to play against Rivers in December, and have a make shift line with a jumpy quarterback. Watch for the Chargers to get ahead early and coast to victory.

Of course, I thought something similar would happen against the Raiders 2 weeks ago. What do you think will happen in the game tonight?

Do you still believe the 49ers have a legit shot at winning the NFC West? Here’s to a 7-9 Playoff team!

December 16, 2010

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