San Diego trails by two games, has already lost to Kansas City and even with a win, the tiebreaker situation would be up in the air. It understates the case to call this a must-win for the Bolts on their home field. They excel at forcing turnovers, while Cassell has been very good at taking care of the ball. Presuming he's absent, the Chargers will be to get some takeaways. They will also be able to move the ball. KC can bring Tamba Hali on the pass rush, but in general, the Chiefs try to stop the pass through coverage, rather than pressure. That won't work against Philip Rivers, and while they may slow the pace of the game, Rivers will still get his points. All of which makes it too tough for Kansas City to really rely on their outstanding ground game with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones. To be fair to San Diego, I think they would win this game at home even if Cassell was fully healthy. Without the efficient quarterback, they win decisively, 34-14.
We looked at Oakland's game with Jacksonville in yesterday's post on the AFC South games. The other AFC West game is Denver-Arizona, surely the most forgettable game of the entire year. I'm taking Arizona to win, if nothing else, because they're at home. It comes down to a battle of big plays. Is it Denver getting the ball to Brandon Lloyd on the outside, or does Larry Fitzgerald come up big for Arizona. From a running game standpoint, while Knowshon Moreno's played better in recent weeks, I still like the Cards chances better with Tim Hightower--or more accurately, I dislike those chances less than I do Denver's. If the Broncos do win, I'm going to start thinking there's something to this "fire a coach, win a game" concept that's already worked for Dallas and Minnesota.
Seattle and St. Louis are tied atop the NFC West at 6-6, and both are on the road this week. The Rams have a good matchup in New Orleans, where the Saints are trying to keep pace with Atlanta and to at least nail down a wild-card berth. St. Louis must establish Stephen Jackson on the ground and keep the Saint pressure honest and allow Sam Bradford some time to scan the field--the rookie quarterback shares the ball with a lot of receivers, but it takes pass protection to properly check your options. He won't get that protection without help from the running game. Defensively, St. Louis does not match up well with the New Orleans offense. Teams that have beaten the Saints have forced Drew Brees into mistakes, and that's not a Ram strength. Furthermore, the New Orleans running game is on the way back with Chris Ivory establishing himself and Reggie Bush getting healthy again. Finally, we come to the fact that the Rams have struggled in the red zone when they have the ball, while the Saints defense excels in the same area. This is all adding up to a New Orleans win, 38-16.
The Seahawks pay a visit to San Francisco, who is going back to Alex Smith at quarterback. This has to be Smith's last chance to make it work in Frisco, although quite frankly, being released and starting over as a backup in a functionable organization would probably give his career a much better chance of success than some illusory success these last four weeks. Seattle's another team getting the running game going, as Marshawn Lynch seems to be settling into the offense and that enables Pete Carroll's team to get a road win and move back into sole possession of first place.
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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.