Marquee Matchup in AFC
Two teams have dominated the discussion about which is the best in the AFC. That's fine for both the San Diego Chargers and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have quietly stayed in their respective division races despite the lack of fanfare.
The AFC West-leading Chargers go for their fifth win in six games on Sunday when they visit the Jaguars, who are just one game back in the AFC South.
Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Jacksonville -3 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday's game, the over/under has been set at 40 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 60% of bets for this game have been placed on San Diego +3 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
San Diego (5-4) started the season slowly after posting a franchise-record 14 wins in 2006. The Chargers, though, have come on strong since the beginning of October, outscoring opponents 144-83 while winning four of their last five games.
The biggest win during their run was Sunday's 23-21 victory over Indianapolis, which has been considered one of the top two teams in the NFL - along with still undefeated New England - for most of this season. The Chargers' win gave them sole possession of the West lead for the first time this season, while the Colts' loss allowed the Jaguars (6-3) to pull within a game of the South lead.
"We finally broke through," said San Diego's Darren Sproles, who returned the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown and later returned a punt 45 yards for another score. "I felt like for a long time we've been very close. It finally happened."
While beating one of the conference powerhouses was satisfying, the Chargers are reluctant to get too confident after the offense managed only 10 points and 177 yards - lower than the Colts' total yardage in the second half alone. San Diego was shut out in the second half for its fifth scoreless half this season.
"We may have stole one but I think our players feel they earned that game," said coach Norv Turner, who admitted the offensive struggles were frustrating but praised his special teams and his defense, which intercepted Peyton Manning six times.
"Our guys that were involved in those returns and our coverage, in special teams, I think our guys that were involved in the defense that intercepted Manning six times, I think they'll remember that for a heck of a long time."
LaDainian Tomlinson has had a solid season, but hasn't been a consistent force out of the backfield. He's tied for the league lead with eight rushing touchdowns, but isn't even close to his pace from last season, when he set an NFL record with 28.
"I just think right now we're struggling with finding our identity," said Tomlinson, who ran 21 times for 76 yards and one score last Sunday. "And really just being consistent at anything, running the football, passing the football. We're inconsistent with everything that we're doing right now. We've got to find a way to do something, something good.
"The good thing is we're not discouraged."
Neither are the Jaguars, who won 28-13 at Tennessee on Sunday to pull into a second-place tie with the Titans in the division. Jacksonville converted three fourth-down plays and the Jaguars, who lead the league with 11 fourth-down conversions and 23 fourth-down attempts this season, scored on each drive.
"It builds confidence in the team as the game goes along, and once you get that thing going, you're good to go," running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. "You've got to be aggressive in the NFL and you've got to take chances. Sometimes they backfire, but more times than not we feel like we have a chance to keep it going."
The Jaguars have even more reason to be confident because quarterback David Garrard practiced with the first-team offense Wednesday and is expected to return to the starting lineup Sunday. Garrard missed the last three games with a sprained left ankle.
"He's one of our playmakers on offense, so to be able to get him back certainly should provide a lift," coach Jack Del Rio said Wednesday. "We want David to settle back into the kind of football he was playing before he got injured, be a playmaker for us. He was making plays with his mind, with his feet and with his arm. We want him to get back into that groove and play good football for us."
Jacksonville's Fred Taylor ran for 45 yards in Sunday's win to become the 21st player in NFL history to rush for more than 10,000 yards in his career. Tomlinson could be the next player to reach that mark - he's 91 yards shy of 10,000 entering Sunday's game.
The Jaguars and Chargers have split their two previous meetings with the home team winning each game. They haven't faced each other since a 34-21 San Diego victory on Oct. 10, 2004.
By: Staff Writers - Email Us
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