This game will probably see the end of the loser's postseason hopes, as neither team can afford to fall another game behind in the divisional race. Both teams are difficult to assess, because neither has played with consistency. While the Chargers are good at turning early leads into big blowouts, the 49ers are the type of team that will run the ball to tire out the opposing defense and leave them weak in the 4th quarter.
The biggest variable in this game will likely be quarterbacking. Replaced by backup Troy Smith because of a shoulder injury, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith has been called into action again and will be looked to in order to keep up with Phillip Rivers' scoring pace. Working in Smith's favor will be that Rivers' favorite target, tight end Antonio Gates, looks unlikely to play. If Smith can stay calm and get the ball to his extremely talented skill position players, the 49ers might just pull off the upset.
NFL Trends and Tidbits
- ESPN has run constant Favre footage since he was ruled inactive, mostly with a sad tone regarding the end of his incredible 297-game starting streak. I observed in an airport earlier that if the television volume is on mute, it appears as if the announcers are discussing a tragic death when they talk about the end of Favre's streak. It's not that serious. If anything, I'm happy for Favre. This season has been an absolute hell on his body, and the Jenn Sterger scandal has provided him with a constant headache for the past four months. Favre gave everything he had to the game, for which he should be commended, and he is now finally ready to quit the game at peace with his nearly self-destructive habit of pushing himself as far as he can go.
- In case you were wondering if the Patriots' blowout of the Jets was a fluke, they proved against the Bears that they are capable of beating any defense in the league. Up 33-0 at halftime due to 26 points scored in the second quarter, the Patriots could have won by an even larger margin than that by which they defeated the Jets. This team is for real, and nobody will be able to defend them.
- Michael Vick's comeback story will end short of the Super Bowl. There is talk that defenses have "figured him out", but that's not true. The real problem on offense is poor communication among the offensive line that has led to unnecessary pressure and sacks against Vick. Between that breakdown in communication and the defense's rash of injuries, it looks like this year will not be the Eagles' year.
- The Vince Young soap opera is the gift that no one wants, that keeps on giving. Receiver Kenny Britt was fined $5,000 for writing VY #10 on his towel, and defiantly declared that he would do it again even if he knew he'd get fined. Tight end Bo Scaife, after joking about "pulling a VY" and not talking to reporters, said this week that the locker room is split between supporters of Young and those who aren't fans of his, but that the offense mostly supports Young. If the entire locker room is divided over the issue of Young, then Bud Adams may have no choice but to lie in the bed that he made and fire Fisher. Although Young is to blame for the publicized feud between him and his coach, a team cannot win if half of the locker room (those who support Young) has given up on the coach because they're siding with the quarterback. Getting rid of Young will make Fisher look like the bad guy to those players who were fans of Young's, but getting rid of Fisher would please those who supported Young, and reestablish him as the franchise quarterback to those who were not supportive of him. For the sake of a unified locker room the Titans may be better of without Fisher than without Young, but Fisher will be better off without the Titans and will win a Super Bowl ring before Young ever does.
- Although they won and kept their playoff hopes alive, the Colts do not seem remotely ready for a deep playoff run. Against one of the worst third-down defenses in the league, Manning struggled to get the ball into the endzone, and the Titans' offense scored way more many points than it should have in the second half. This team is good enough to beat bad opponents, but not good enough to beat a remotely playoff-contending team.
- The Jets seem to be in a serious funk, between losing embarrassingly to the Patriots, losing to the inferior Dolphins, and dealing with the embarrassment of strength coach Sal Alosi tripping a Dolphins special teams player. On top of that, defensive end Shaun Ellis used the media to criticize Rex Ryan's anger towards his defense. All of these signs point to an impending collapse. - Hank Koebler, IV
Hank is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.
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