Welcome Back Turner
San Diego, CA - Michael Turner made the most of limited opportunities with the San Diego Chargers. Now, nobody's getting the ball more often than LaDainian Tomlinson's former backup.
The Atlanta Falcons, one of the NFL's top rushing teams thanks to Turner, look to at least keep pace in the NFC South when they visit the struggling Chargers on Sunday.
Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Chargers -5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 74% of bets for this game have been placed on Falcons +5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
Turner has been perhaps the best free-agent pickup of the offseason, helping to make Atlanta (7-4) a surprise playoff contender by easing much of the burden that has been placed on rookie quarterback Matt Ryan. The Falcons are second in the NFL in rushing with 151.5 yards per game, and Turner tops the league with 251 carries.
In a key 45-28 win over division-leading Carolina last Sunday, Turner tied an Atlanta record with four rushing touchdowns. He finished with 117 yards, going over 1,000 for the first time in his career.
Turner was excellent as Tomlinson's backup with San Diego (4-7), averaging 5.5 yards per carry. He wasn't needed much, with the Chargers relying on Tomlinson, the two-time defending NFL rushing champion.
Now, however, Tomlinson is having the worst year of his eight-season career and Turner is flourishing. Tomlinson was slowed for much of the season's first half by a sore big toe, and San Diego has become more of a passing team.
He has rushed for 770 yards, 3.8 per carry, and has one TD in his last seven games. San Diego, perennially one of the league's top rushing teams, is 25th in the NFL with 95.5 yards a game.
And while the Chargers only have a shot at reaching the playoffs because the AFC West has been so bad, the Falcons have become one of the league's top teams after going 4-12 last season.
With Turner leading the way, Atlanta set a season high for points last Sunday, surpassing a 38-14 win over Kansas City on Sept. 21.
Ryan continues to have a solid season, going 17-for-27 for 259 yards last week to help the Falcons win for the third time in their last four games. Atlanta trails Tampa Bay and Carolina by one game in the division.
With a steady running game to lean on and solid starting receivers in Roddy White and Michael Jenkins, Ryan has completed 60.0 percent of his passes with 11 TDs and six interceptions.
Rookie wide receiver Harry Douglas may be developing into another weapon for Ryan to utilize, and he's coming off his best game by far. Douglas caught four balls for 92 yards, had three punt returns for 93 yards and scored Atlanta's first TD after taking a pitch from Ryan.
"Whatever they need me to do, wherever they need me to play, that's why I'm here," Douglas said.
Defense has been the Falcons' biggest concern, allowing 20 points or more in nine games, and missing defensive end John Abraham wouldn't help. He left in the fourth quarter against the Panthers with pain in his neck and shoulder, and is expected to be a game-time decision.
Abraham has 12 sacks, putting him into a tie with two others for second-most in the NFL.
The Chargers could only sack Peyton Manning once in a 23-20 loss to Indianapolis last Sunday night, with Adam Vinatieri kicking a 51-yard field goal as time expired.
San Diego, though, is still in the playoff chase despite losing four of its last five games. The Chargers trail Denver by two games in the West.
"That's the only positive spin you can put on this whole deal is that we're still two games back with five to go and we get a chance at the team were chasing the last game of the year," San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said.
"As bad as it's been and as tough as it's been, again, I don't know how many weeks we'll be able to say it, but at least one more week, this week, we can say it, we're still in the hunt for everything we set out to accomplish."
Atlanta has won four straight against San Diego and leads the series 6-1. In the teams' last meeting, the Falcons won 21-20 at home on Oct. 17, 2004.
Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
SAN DIEGO is 2-1 against the spread versus ATLANTA since 1992
ATLANTA is 3-0 straight up against SAN DIEGO since 1992
3 of 3 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
There were no past matchups in this series during this time period.
All games played at SAN DIEGO since 1992
ATLANTA is 1-0 against the spread versus SAN DIEGO since 1992
ATLANTA is 1-0 straight up against SAN DIEGO since 1992
1 of 1 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Key Player Injuries
[OT] Sam Baker out indefinitely - Back - 10/29/08
[CB] Von Hutchins IR - Foot - 07/28/08
[RB] Thomas Brown IR - Leg - 08/30/08
[LB] Shawne Merriman IR - Knee - 09/10/08
[DE] Luis Castillo injured last game, "?" - Groin - 11/18/08
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Posted: 11/25/08 8:43PM ET