A pair of California teams with different playoff aspirations will present NFL fans with some holiday entertainment Saturday evening when the San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers face off on CBS. The Chargers (8-6) desperately need a win to stay in the hunt for a Wild Card spot in the AFC, while the 49ers (7-7) have already been eliminated form postseason contention.
San Diego trails Pittsburgh and Baltimore by a game for one of the two Wild Card berths and has been hit by the injury bug at the worst time possible. The Chargers will be without their top wide receiver (Keenan Allen) and possibly their No. 1 running back (Ryan Mathews), while quarterback Philip Rivers has been dealing with some injuries of his own.
For San Francisco, injuries have had a significant impact on this season’s results, while the other prevailing storyline has been the uncertainty regarding head coach Jim Harbaugh’s future with the team. An offense that ranks 27th in the league has certainly added to the 49ers’ woes, and this unit could be really thin in the backfield on Saturday because of the latest rash of injures.
This is just the fourth meeting between these Sunshine State teams. San Diego is a perfect 3-0 against San Francisco with the last matchup occurring four years ago (Chargers 34-7).
San Diego Chargers at San Francisco 49ers
Kickoff: 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: San Francisco -1
[inline_team_schedule team-id=17 date=20141106 sport=nfl upcoming=1 limit=8][/inline_team_schedule]
San Diego’s Key to Victory: Cobble Together a Running Game
Top wide receiver Keenan Allen (collarbone, ankle) has already been ruled out for this game and there’s a good chance running back Ryan Mathews (ankle) may not be able to play either. Combine that with a battered and bruised (chest, back) Philip Rivers and this offense is hurting. The easiest way to help Rivers would be to run the ball effectively. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done as the Chargers have averaged less than 60 yards rushing over their past three games. Branden Oliver has had his moments (215 yards rushing in consecutive starts against the Jets and Raiders), but his effectiveness has diminished greatly since then. Oliver and Donald Brown and maybe even veteran Ronnie Brown need to figure out a way to generate some sort of a ground game to, at minimum, take some of the burden off of their quarterback. Rivers is as tough as they come, but his production has slipped recently with just seven touchdown passes in his last six games (and three of those coming in one contest). Although he won’t admit it, it’s perfectly understandable to assume that the punishment Rivers has endured during the season has taken its toll recently. To make matters worse, he won’t have his leading receiver for this game either. Whether it’s using the committee approach or riding the hot hand, the Chargers need to run the ball (and effectively) against the 49ers. Their playoff hopes, not to mention the health of their quarterback, depend on it.
[inline_team_schedule team-id=32 date=20141106 sport=nfl upcoming=1 limit=8][/inline_team_schedule]
San Francisco’s Key to Victory: Relish Spoiler Role
After three straight NFC Championship Game appearances, the 49ers will be sitting this postseason out. Most of the attention has shifted to Jim Harbaugh’s future and his next destination (Michigan? Jets? Raiders?) should he and the team decide to part ways. However, San Francisco could still have an impact on how the playoffs shape up with games remaining against San Diego and Arizona. The Chargers need a win just to stay in the postseason discussion, while the Cardinals have already wrapped up a playoff spot, but could still need a final victory to hold off the Seahawks for the NFC West crown, which could come with a first-round bye. The 49ers have had to deal with injuries (and other off-the-field circumstances) to key defenders all season long and the offense (27th in yards, 28th in points per game) has not picked up the slack. However, this is still a proud team that can make a strong statement these next two weeks and I am pretty sure the Chargers aren’t expecting the 49ers to just roll over either. Whether this is Harbaugh’s second-to-last game coaching San Francisco remains to be seen, but as competitive and fiery as he is, I fully expect him to go down swinging either way. And just as they have done for these past four seasons, the 49ers should follow their coach’s example and view Saturday’s game as the first of two opportunities to put their stamp on how this season turns out.
San Diego definitely needs this one more, but the Chargers aren’t anywhere near full strength. San Francisco has been playing shorthanded all season and could be really thin in the backfield. Even though the 49ers are the ones who have already been eliminated from playoff contention, I expect for Jim Harbaugh to get his team to embrace its spoiler role and come out fired up and ready to play. San Diego’s offense has been consistently more productive than San Francisco’s, but this unit also is extremely banged up and won’t be whole. Both offenses will struggle to get much going, but the 49ers’ defense puts the clamps on Philip Rivers and company and hand the Chargers a devastating (and potential season-ending) loss.