A week after the Colts faced their most familiar non-divisional foe, they get to face yet another team they are extremely familiar with: the San Diego Chargers. This will be the 7th meeting between the two teams since 2004, and pretty much every one of them was down to the wire, and every one of them is memorable:
- Week 16, 2004 - Peyton Manning to Brandon Stokley: "That's the Record Breaker!"
- Week 15, 2005 - The Colts were 13-0 coming in, and backup RB Michael Turner had a field day, capping it off with an 83 yard TD run with 2:20 to go, a 26-17 Chargers victory.
- Week 10, 2007 - Manning is throwing passes to Aaron Moorehead, Craphonso Thorpe, and Bryan Fletcher, and he completes 6 of them to Chargers players. He somehow gets the Colts in position to win, and Adam Vinatieri misses a game winning chipshot FG.
- Divisional Playoff, 2007 - Manning throws for over 400 yards, and the defense allows the Chargers, without Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson, and with Billy Volek at QB, to drive the length of the field to win 28-24.
- Week 12, 2008 - Norv Turner, instead of either forcing the Colts to call their last Timeout or taking another 35 seconds off the clock, calls a timeout with 1:35 left before Nate Kaeding kicks a game tying FG. Of course Manning takes advantage of Norv being Norv, and Vinatieri makes up for the year before, drilling a 51 yard FG as time expired to win.
Wild Card Playoff, 2008 - The Colts couldn't convert on a 3rd and 2 late in the game, which would have sealed it, and the Chargers scored on the first possession of overtime, winning 23-17.
Like almost every other Charger team the past 6 or 7 seasons, they started out terrible, coming out of the gate 2-5, looking flat out awful in some games. But they finally turned the corner, winning 3 straight games coming in Lucas Oil Stadium. Philip Rivers is playing at an MVP level, throwing to the likes of Seyi Ajirotutu and Kory Sperry. They blasted the Broncos 35-14 on Monday Night, with Rivers throwing 4 TD passes.
Let's see how the teams match-up statistically, get some keys to the game, and pick a winner...
Adjusted Stats Comparison:
|Avg Start Pos||28.0||32||29.4||11||28.8||25||33.8||31|
|3 and Outs||2.79||4||3.91||14||3.43||13||4.46||6|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.635||4||0.789||20||0.666||6||0.733||24|
|Net Punts Yds/Game||39.55||13||41.36||29||29.17||32||36.68||7|
Statistical Keys to the Game:
- Like the past 2 weeks for the Colts, Turnovers look to play a pivotal role in the game Sunday night. The Chargers like turning the ball over (28th in the league), and don't cause many turnovers (22nd). The Colts need to capitalize on Charger mistakes, more so than they did against Cincinnati.
- The Chargers defense is very good at all the Drive Related stats, ranking in the top 10 in all but one of them. The Colts offense is slightly better, ranking in the top 5 in all categories. If the Colts can sustain several drives, it should mean a win.
- Don't expect to see too many down-the-field throws, as the Chargers are best in the NFL at Yards/Play. The Colts have struggled in this area as of late, so their going to have to grind out those drives.
- On the flip side, the Colts defense must shut down the best passing team in the league, which is no small task. The Colts are ranked 8th, so it isn't impossible. Getting one of the LBs back would be a big boost.
- The Chargers have a big edge on 3rd/4th Downs as well, which has been the barometer of the Colts defense so far this season. When they have done well on 3rd/4th down, they've won. When they've let teams keep converting, they lose. The Colts will need to step up their game on 3rd downs if they want any shot of winning.
- For the first time in several weeks, the defense will be facing a team that isn't top 5 in the Red Zone. Forcing field goals will be key to staying in the game, especially if they let the Chargers eat away chunks of yards between the 20s.
Other Keys to the Game:
- The health of Antonio Gates. As a fantasy owner of Gates, I just need you to be healthy for the playoffs, which is in 2 weeks. Rest up and be 100% for those games, rather than rushing back early. He's battling Plantar Fasciitis, which I've heard is extremely painful. If Gates doesn't play, the Chargers get even worse in the Red Zone. He still has more than twice the number of TDs than any of his teammates.
- Vincent Jackson is eligible to play this weekend, and he's going to be a major contributor right away. Patrick Crayton is most likely out with a wrist injury, and Malcolm Floyd, who just came back from an injury, did not practice Wednesday with a hamstring injury. Hopefully the timing between Jackson and Rivers is off for his first week back.
- While Manning wasn't sacked last weekend in New England, pressure on him led to 2 of the 3 Interceptions he threw. In particular, Ryan Diem was abused consistently. The Offensive line needs to step it up this week.
- Playing in primetime: The Colts have won 9 straight primetime games, and Manning always seems to be at his best when the lights are on, especially at home.
- While every game in the NFL is important, and rarely do teams get caught "looking ahead", the Chargers have two of their biggest games of the year coming up in the next two weeks: Home vs. Oakland, Home vs. KC. If there was any chance of a team looking ahead, it might be this week. The Chargers need both of those games more than they need the one this week.
My Winning Stats Predictor has the two teams separated by 0.15 points this week, with a slight edge to the Chargers. What my Predictor doesn't take into account (yet) is Home/Away splits, and where the game is being played. The Colts have looked fantastic at home all year, especially on defense. After the Chiefs game, I said this team wasn't losing a home game this season, and I still firmly believe that. Playing at night, with the home crowd, and a familiar opponent, I see a final 2 minute drive by Manning, capped off by Adam Vinatieri splitting the uprights.
Colts 27, Chargers 24