Coming off a thrilling win over Cincinnati in which they clinched their fourth straight AFC West title, the Chargers play a Christmas night game in Nashville. San Diego can clinch the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs with a win in its final two games or a New England loss in its final two games.
Even though the Titans are hot, the Chargers must like their chances. San Diego (11-3) has won nine straight games and an NFL-record 17 straight games in December, dating to 2006.
Here are the keys to the game for San Diego:
Stop Johnson: The Titans’ best chance of beating San Diego is to unleash star running back Chris Johnson, who needs only 270 yards in his final two games to become the sixth NFL running back to have 2,000 yards rushing in a season. San Diego’s run defense has been suspect at times. If Johnson can exploit the Chargers on the ground, it could be a long evening for the visitors.
Contain Young: While stopping quarterback Vince Young is not as vital as stopping Johnson, the resurgent quarterback must be accounted for. San Diego allowed Carson Palmer to hurt it in the fourth quarter last week when the Bengals roared back from an 11-point deficit. Young can do the same thing if allowed. San Diego’s defense has been known for making the big play at the right time in the past two months. That must continue.
Be explosive: This shouldn’t be a problem for San Diego. Its offense has been playing at a high level nearly all season. Quarterback Philip Rivers is playing out of his mind, and he has been spreading the wealth around. With the Titans’ big-play capability, San Diego must stay a step ahead of the Titans when it has the ball.
Stay poised: The Chargers and Titans have had some heated battles recently. Some Chargers are still upset over a questionable play against linebacker Shawne Merriman, in which he suffered a knee injury in 2007. Expect emotions to be running high. But San Diego can’t get too emotional. It has to keep its eye on the prize.
Take advantage of the Titans’ injuries: Tennessee's linebacker crew has been ravaged by injury. Standout Keith Bullock is done for the season, a big hit for the Titans. San Diego must use star tight end Antonio Gates and let him create havoc in the middle of the field.