Playoff Aspiring Foes Meet As San Diego Chargers Take On Detroit Lions
Saturday, December 24, 2011
by Aengus Moorehead
The San Diego Chargers are embarking on their annual December push toward a playoff spot after spending the past two months looking like a team that would be drafting in the top five. The Detroit Lions have scratched off the stink of back-to-back losses with back-to-back wins and came within a game of achieving their wild card dreams with a last-second victory over the Oakland Raiders – one of the teams the Chargers are trying to track down.
San Diego still has a chance to save its season and end up with the AFC West title, but it needs to win out and get a lot of help. The Lions, who sit in the No. 6 spot in the NFC, are in control of their own destiny. While the Chargers have been a perennial playoff contender during the Philip Rivers years.
Only a collapse in the final two weeks of the regular season could make it difficult for the Detroit Lions to capture their first playoff berth since the 1999 campaign.
Detroit is currently one of a handful of teams vying for one of the final postseason berths since the NFC North has already been locked up by the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. It has won two straight and three of five games, including Sunday's exciting finish to a 28-27 victory over the Oakland Raiders out west. Peering down a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford engineered a pair of drives to put his team ahead for good.
Stafford moved the Lions closer with a three-yard touchdown pass to Titus Young with 4:59 to go in the game and after the defense did its job, he hooked up with Calvin Johnson on a six-yard scoring strike to put Detroit ahead for good. All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who returned from a two-game suspension for his antics in a Thanksgiving loss to Green Bay, then blocked Sebastian Janikowski's 65-yard field goal attempt on the final play.
Scoring points has put the Lions back on the map and ahead of most of the teams gunning to extend the season. Atlanta and Detroit both have nine wins, while there are four other NFC teams with identical 7-7 records. Taking care of business is key for the Lions since relying on other teams for help usually doesn't work out for the better. Detroit closes its season at Green Bay.
San Diego is hanging on to its playoff hopes by a thread and so goes the same for head coach Norv Turner and his job status.
The Chargers are still alive in both the AFC West and wild card standings with a 7-7 mark, and recorded their third win in a row with Sunday's convincing 34-14 victory versus the Baltimore Ravens at home. San Diego's season high- tying three-game winning streak comes on the heels of a six-game slide.
In the 20-point victory over the Ravens, Philip Rivers did not throw an interception for a fourth straight game and completed 17-of-23 passes for 270 yards and one touchdown pass. Rivers hit seven different targets and running back Ryan Mathews carried the workload with 90 yards and a pair of touchdown runs on a season-high 26 carries. While the offense racked up 415 yards of offense, it was San Diego's defense that controlled the tempo.
Turner's team is facing a short week for the fourth time in less than two months and will close out the regular season at Oakland. The Chargers are tied with the Raiders for second in the AFC West -- one game behind Denver -- and are one of several teams vying for the final playoff spot in the conference. A loss on Saturday to Detroit would definitely spoil any chances of San Diego reaching the postseason for the fifth time in six years. Winning out and the Broncos losing out would sew up the fifth AFC West title in six seasons.
The Chargers and Lions have faced off nine times previously, with San Diego taking the last six meetings between the teams after losing the first three matchups in the set. Detroit hasn't defeated the Chargers in 33 years, with its last victory over the Bolts a 31-14 home triumph all the way back on Oct. 22, 1978. The Chargers have won twice in the Motor City during their series streak, a 20-10 decision at the Silverdome in 1999 and a 14-7 verdict at Ford Field in 2003, and also destroyed the Lions in a 51-14 laugher held in San Diego during the 2007 season.
Turner is 4-2 against Detroit during his head coaching career, owning a 1-0 record with the Chargers and a 3-2 mark while at the helm of the Washington Redskins from 1994-2000 that includes a win over the Lions in a 1999 NFC Divisional Playoff. Jim Schwartz will be taking on both San Diego and Turner for the first time as a man in charge.
Time & Venue:
- 4:05 PM ET, Saturday, December 24, 2011. Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan
NFL Football Odds: Lions -1, O/U 52.5
Once again San Diego was left for dead after a horrible start and once again it has risen up just in time to make a late charge for a playoff spot and possibly save coach Norv Turner’s job. The Chargers secured their most impressive win last week, dismantling the Baltimore Ravens 34-14 for their third straight win following a six-game losing streak. Rivers has been at the top of his game during the winning streak, throwing seven touchdowns and no interceptions after serving up 17 picks in San Diego’s first 11 contests.
Detroit has shown its resiliency of late, beating Minnesota without Ndamukong Suh on Dec. 11 and pulling within a game of the playoffs at the last second against the Raiders.
Lions running back Kevin Smith has 272 yards and three scores, and could be a factor on Saturday. Smith has fallen back to earth since his exciting debut, but the Chargers are just 21st against the run (126.1 ypg).
How long will Rivers' resurgence last? Rivers is facing a middle-of-the-pack secondary in Detroit and needs to be on point once again since another loss would make it difficult for San Diego to return to the playoffs. The fiery signal caller joined Peyton Manning and Drew Brees as the only QBs in league history to throw for 4,000 yards in at least four straight seasons.
Stafford can also chuck it with the best of them and would love to pass the Lions to victory and into the playoffs. He first must get past San Diego's sixth-rated pass defense, which is allowing just over 200 yards per game.
Johnson's 214 yards last week were the third-most in a game in Detroit history.
San Diego RB Ryan Mathews has 453 yards over the last four games and went over 1,000 (1,033) in the win over Baltimore.
Detroit is 1-4 ATS in its last 5 games when playing San Diego
Detroit is 1-4 ATS in its last 5 games at home
Detroit is 1-5 ATS in its last 6 games
San Diego is 2-6 ATS in its last 8 games on the road
The total has gone OVER in 7 of San Diego's last 8 games on the road
San Diego is 5-11 ATS in its last 16 games
Two of the premier passers will be on center stage in the Motor City, and one of them will be going home with a frown. Rivers has had plenty to smile about these days in bringing his Chargers up from the rear in the AFC West and is not about to lose this one with a postseason spot at stake. Stafford and the Lions can punch their ticket to the playoffs by cooling off San Diego, but Rivers' arm is way too hot right now to simmer down. Expect another strong performance from Mathews on the ground in opening up the air attack for a pleasant ride home back to the Golden State.
NFL Football Pick: Take Chargers.
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