Free NFL Pick: San Francisco at San Diego 12-16-2010

December 15, 2010


San Francisco 49ers at San Diego Chargers

Thursday December 16th, 2010 8:20 PM EST

Line: San Diego -9


Here we are in December and two teams who were believed to be the odds on favorites to win their respective divisions outright are fighting for their playoff lives. At 5-8, the San Francisco 49ers are one game out of the top spot in the laughable NFC West. With St. Louis and Seattle a game ahead of the 49ers, if the Rams lose to the Chiefs and the Seahawks lose to the Falcons, the 49ers will still be in the mix of things, win lose or draw on Thursday.

Their opponent might have just a little bit more riding on this one. At 7-6, the Chargers got off to a slow start as well. They are currently a game out of first place, behind the Kansas City Chiefs, who the Chargers dominated last week while the Chiefs had Brodie Croyle under center. The Chargers face a seemingly weak remaining schedule, but a slip up this week could allow Kansas City to take a commanding two game lead, as well as open the door for the Raiders to jump back into the race.

Keys to the Game:

  • Vernon Davis excels when Alex Smith is in the game. He has caught a touchdown pass in five straight games when Smith was under center. San Diego has the best defense in the NFL this season, but look for Vernon Davis to exploit mismatches in their pass defense. Davis can run routes like a receiver and has the edge on most defenders with his 6-3, 250 pound build. San Diego not only needs to be careful in coverage, they need to be sure tacklers as well. Davis can make a couple botched tackles result in six points in a hurry.
  • Antonio Gates is doubtful. This may not seem like a huge deal, as the Chargers have won without Gates’ services in three out of three games this season, but Gates presents problems for defenses on every single snap. He always has to be accounted for. The 49ers have linebackers that can aide them in coverage, but that takes away from their pass rushing effectiveness in the 3-4. Gates is going to be missed, especially when the Chargers need a sure handed outlet towards the end zone.
  • Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes are nursing hand injuries, but it appears they will be able to play. Willis was given the nickname ‘Bam-Bam’, by Bengals wide receiver Chad Ocho-Cinco during Willis’ rookie year. Willis played with a club on his right hand for a large portion of his rookie campaign and still managed to earn Rookie of the Year honors. He and Spikes are having one of the best stretches in their careers. Spikes has taken over the game at times in his last three outings. He has two interceptions in that span and managed to bring down the ball carrier 17 times against Green Bay alone. The 49ers need the strength of their team to come through on Thursday.
  • Philip Rivers has been the only constant for the Chargers’ offense this season. Surrounded by suspensions, holdouts, and injuries, Rivers seemed to ignore the adversity and got the football to whoever was on the football field. He may not be in the running for MVP, but with a 103.1 QB rating, Rivers is having a phenomenal season. The Chargers will likely air it out, but Rivers needs to proceed with caution. The 49ers have been making plays in the secondary and throwing multiple interceptions could breath life into the 49ers.
  • The 49ers play much better when the defense renders some sort of pass rush. The 49ers don’t have a ten sack guy on their roster, so they have to get to the quarterback by committee. With Ahmad Bradshaw, Manny Lawson, Parys Haralson, Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, and Travis La Boy, the 49ers have a number of defenders who can be effective at getting to the quarterback. They have no player on their roster who can consistently get to the quarterback, but many have stretches where they dominate. All it takes is one guy to step up and dominate for the 49ers to become disruptive in the backfield.
  • Ryan Matthews made his comeback last week from injury and appears to be stealing a majority of the carries from Mike Tolbert. The Chargers have a two headed monster, which could bode well for the 49ers. Tolbert cranked out a number of big games and Matthews has yet to post one 100 yard game. It will be interesting to see how the division of labor breaks down, but it looks like Matthews will be getting the bulk of the work. Matthews has ball security issues, which could come into play, should he struggle against a 49ers defense who allows just over 100 yards a game on the ground.

Key Matchup:

Anthony Davis Vs. Shaun Phillips

  • Shaun Phillips is an elite pass rusher. With ten sacks already this season, Phillips has made the transition away from Shawne Merriman an easy one. Phillips has been held in check in his last two games, but will dominate the 49ers, should they leave him unaccounted for. The Chargers are very effective at getting to the quarterback and can attack from a number of different areas, but it is Phillips who can flat out take over a game. His matchup this week? Try rookie tackle Anthony Davis.
  • The 49ers trade up in the draft to go after tackle Anthony Davis in the first round. They have had issues at the right tackle position and wanted to sure up the tackle spot with a high profile guy. Davis has had his growing pains this season, but appears to be coming into his own. The last time he faced a pass rusher of this magnitude, it was against Clay Matthews when the 49ers took on the packers two weeks ago. While the Packers won the game handedly, Davis succeeding in shutting down Matthews. Brian Westbrook has done incredibly well in pass protection and Vernon Davis will surely be there to check Phillips at the line. As long as Davis doesn’t buckle, the 49ers should be fine up front.

Wrap Up:

Both teams could make their case for this being a must win game. The 49ers do considerably well on national TV and the Chargers do considerably well late into the season. The Chargers have an outstanding defense, but nine is a huge spread. The 49ers will probably lose this game, but a double digit blowout in a situation of this magnitude seems out of reach for San Diego.

Free NFL Pick: San Francisco +9

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