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NFL Preview - Kansas City (8-4) at San Diego (6-6)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Numbers-wise, it just doesn't make sense.
With an offense that's the league's third-best in scoring and a defense that's allowed the fewest total yards and passing yards in the NFL, the San Diego Chargers shouldn't be in a fight for their playoff lives heading into Week 14 for the NFL season.
But that's precisely where the four-time defending AFC West champions find themselves on the eve of a Qualcomm Stadium showdown with current division leader Kansas City this Sunday.
A loss to the Chiefs would drop head coach Norv Turner and Co. to 6-7 on the season and eliminate any chance San Diego could catch Kansas City -- which also won the season series opener between these teams on Sept. 13 -- for the West crown with just three games remaining on the 2010 regular-season schedule.
Such a result would all but KO any fleeting Wild Card hopes the Chargers still harbor as well.
San Diego trails the incumbent Wild Card leaders -- the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens -- by three and two games, respectively, and faces a homestretch grind that includes a home game with San Francisco next week before season-ending road trips to Cincinnati and Denver.
Still, while opportunity may be waning, confidence is not.
"In a lot of ways it is in our hands," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. "Not completely, but what we can control is winning this week and winning the games we get to play. Again, we've needed help before in previous years, and a lot more than we need now, and it's worked out.
"If we look up Jan. 2 and it's not enough, it's not enough. But we've got to make sure that on Jan. 2 we've done all we can do, and it starts this week by winning against Kansas City."
Meanwhile, the Chiefs, who've not swept the Chargers since 2003, will try to extend a three-game win streak with a quarterback coming off game-week surgery.
Matt Cassel, who's thrown 23 touchdowns to four interceptions in year No. 2 atop the Kansas City depth chart, underwent an appendectomy on Wednesday and is a question mark to suit up.
If he's unable to go, the starting duties fall to backup Brodie Croyle, who's winless in nine career starts. The Chiefs also signed quarterback Tyler Palko to the active roster from the practice squad.
Croyle has played in 16 regular-season games, completing 173-of-300 passes for 1,631 yards and eight touchdowns with eight interceptions.
"Just got to prepare like you always do," Croyle said. "My number's called, got to be ready to go. You've got to be ready to go on any play."
Kansas City holds a 51-48-1 edge in a regular-season series with San Diego that dates back to 1960, when the Chiefs franchise was then known as the Dallas Texans and the Chargers resided in Los Angeles. The Chargers had won five straight over the Chiefs, including home-and-home sweeps in each of the previous two seasons, prior to Kansas City's 21-14 verdict at Arrowhead Stadium in this year's opener. The Chiefs have lost in five of their last six stops to Qualcomm Stadium, with the lone win during that span a 30-16 decision in 2007.
In addition to their regular-season history, the teams have met once in the postseason, with the Chargers scoring a 17-0 home victory over the Chiefs in a 1992 AFC First-Round Playoff.
Turner is 5-7 against the Chiefs as a head coach, including a 5-2 record since taking over in San Diego in 2007. Kansas City's Todd Haley is 1-2 against both Turner and the Chargers as a head coach.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
Running the ball has been the preeminent Kansas City strength this season, as evidenced by an NFL-best rate of 175.2 rushing yards per week. The Chiefs' total yardage clip of 373.8 per game is sixth in the league, while their scoring rate of 24.6 points per game is ninth. Passing has been an afterthought at times, though, and Kansas City is just 25th with a weekly average of 198.7 yards through the air. Conversely, San Diego has been solid at stopping everything but points. The Chargers are first in the league in both total yards allowed (281.5 ypg) and pass defense (186.2 ypg), and are fifth against the run (95.2 ypg). The scoring average of 21.1 points per game allowed, however, is only 16th-best of 32 teams.
Cassel has thrived against the AFC West this season, throwing for eight touchdowns and just one interception while compiling a 93.4 passer rating. He has 28 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions in his career as a road starter as well, along with an 87.5 rating. Running back Jamaal Charles is nearing Jim Brown's status as the lone NFL player to gain 1,100 rush yards with at least a 6.2 yards per carry average. Charles has 1,137 rushing yards, the second-best total in the league, so far in 2010. A 100-yard game this week would be his third straight, and he's also seeking a third straight game with at least 90 yards and a rushing touchdown against San Diego. Outside, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is 115 yards away from a second straight 1,000-yard receiving season. Rookie tight end Tony Moeaki passed Tony Gonzalez in the Kansas City record book last week with his 36th reception as a first-year player. He caught a touchdown pass in the Week 1 triumph over the Chargers. On the special teams, return ace Dexter McCluster had a 94-yard punt runback in the earlier meeting with the Chargers, the longest in Chiefs franchise history.
Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips has 6 1/2 sacks in his last eight games against the Chiefs and leads the team with 10 on the season, while linebacker Kevin Burnett tops the team with 74 tackles, including 64 solo stops. Cornerback Antoine Cason is tops among San Diego players with four interceptions.
WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL
San Diego has feasted through the air this season, running up the second-best total yardage (397.4 ypg) and passing yardage (291.8 ypg) rates in the league. The Chargers' scoring clip of 26.9 points is third in the NFL, while the run game and its 105.6-yard average is just 19th. Kansas City has succeeded in keeping foes off the scoreboard to the tune of a ninth-best 19.8 points per game average. Opponents have done well in terms of yardage, though, leaving the Chiefs at 16th in total defense (334.9 ypg), 21st in pass defense (233.1 ypg) and 12th in rushing yards allowed (101.8 ypg).
Rivers is a touchdown pass away from 25 on the season, which would make him the first in Chargers' history to reach that number in three straight years. He is 18-1 as a starter in December with 34 touchdown passes, 11 interceptions and a 99.0 passer rating, and also stands 358 yards short of joining Dan Fouts as the lone San Diego quarterbacks to reach 4,000 in three straight years. Running back Mike Tolbert caught a career-best six passes in last week's 28-13 home loss to Oakland and has scored a career-high nine touchdowns this season. Tight end Antonio Gates has 12 career touchdowns against the Chiefs, his most against any foe, and leads NFL players at his position with 782 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in 2010. Wideout Vincent Jackson, questionable to play with a calf injury, averages 19.9 yards per catch (25 catches, 497 yards) lifetime against Kansas City, and rookie Seyi Ajirotutu has compiled an average of 20.4 yards per reception this season.
Kansas City linebacker Tamba Hali has a career-best 10 sacks this season and rookie cornerback Javier Arenas had a career-high two in last week's 10-6 victory over Denver.
In spite of San Diego's lofty defensive standing, several options for the Chiefs are worthwhile, including Cassel (if healthy), Charles, running back Thomas Jones, Bowe and Moeaki. For the Chargers, the same can be said of Rivers, Tolbert, wideout Malcom Floyd, Gates and kicker Nate Kaeding. Out of the two defenses, San Diego's is the one to go with.
Last week's loss to Oakland dealt a huge blow to San Diego's overall playoff chances, but what opportunity does remain can be augmented by a big effort on Sunday. And in spite of the 6-6 record, it's hard to pick against a team that -- at least perception-wise -- still seems to be among the league's best. Score one for the last stand on the home field.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chargers 24, Chiefs 20
12/09 17:01:50 ET