By Dave Thomas
With four games left in the regular season, the San Diego Chargers will look to carry the momentum they garnered following last weekend's big 34-33 on the road at Baltimore into their Sunday night showdown at home with the New England Patriots.
Two teams only separated by a game in the AFC standings, the Patriots and Chargers have different agendas when the two square off in front of a national audience on NBC.
For the Patriots, the task is to hold on to the top spot in the AFC (New England and Denver both sit at 9-3, Pats hold the tiebreaker), while the Chargers (8-4) look to stay on the heels of Denver and stay ahead of Kansas City (7-5).
Chargers Run The Gauntlet
To say San Diego has a difficult December schedule would be like saying Buffalo gets a little bit of snow in the winter.
Just before the calendar turned to this month, the Chargers were playing at Baltimore. After hosting New England Sunday evening, the Bolts get a visit from Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, then finish out the regular season with visits to San Francisco and Kansas City. Yes, not easy at all.
While the Chargers are looking for back-to-back playoff appearances, Tom Brady and the Patriots just continue on about their way, seemingly headed back to the playoffs and perhaps the top seed in the conference when all is said and done.
After their close loss in Green Bay (26-21) last Sunday, the Patriots headed west instead of going back to New England to practice and prepare for the Bolts. With a media frenzy surrounding Brady and company this week, the team has managed to get some practices in at the University of San Diego, despite off and on rain.
If the Chargers are to rain on New England's parade this time around, they will need to get an early lead to ensure the crowd stays in the game.
Secondly, San Diego must put together some kind of running game.
It has been well-documented this season that the Bolts have struggled on the ground, thereby leaving Philip Rivers and his receivers/tight ends to make up a large chunk of the offensive firepower. If Ryan Mathews and Branden Oliver can secure a sizable chunk of rushing yards, that takes some of the pressure off of Rivers to win the game on his own.
Contain Brady Whenever Possible
Lastly, Brady and the Pats will get their share of points.
The key is not to have Brady go off with his receivers, especially tight end Rob Gronkowski. The key here is to make New England beat you with their ground game and keep Brady in check as much as possible.
Heading into Sunday's contest, the Chargers were looking at several key players battling injuries.
Starting tackle D.J. Fluker is battling a concussion, while starting defensive tackle Corey Liuget is dealing with a knee injury. Having one or both of them back come Sunday night would certainly help the Bolts.
INJURY REPORT AS OF THURSDAY:
Ryan Carrethers (nose tackle) - elbow - did not practice
D.J. Fluker (tackle) - concussion - did not practice
Dwight Freeney (outside linebacker) - non-injury related - full practice
Andrew Gachkar (inside linebacker) - knee - full practice
Corey Liuget (defensive tackle) - knee - full practice
Ryan Miller (guard) - groin - did not practice
Philip Rivers (quarterback) - chest - full practice
Chris Watt (guard) - calf - did not practice
For more Chargers news and updates, visit Chargers Central.
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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