A closer look at the Chargers

Every Tuesday we’ll take a closer look at the Ravens’ next opponent. This week it’s the San Diego Chargers.

Record: 6-7, third in AFC West

Wins: vs. Minnesota, vs. Kansas City, vs. Miami, @ Denver, @ Jacksonville, vs. Buffalo

Losses: @ New England, @ New York Jets, @ Kansas City, vs. Green Bay, vs. Oakland, @ Chicago, vs. Denver

Offense: eighth in NFL, second in AFC

Defense: eighth in NFL, seventh in AFC

Synopsis thus far: It’s December, which means the Chargers are in the midst of their annual tradition of a late-season surge in order to salvage their season and try and make the postseason. This year, oddly enough, saw the Chargers take a different path to mediocrity. They began the season 4-1, a rarity for a franchise that has struggled in the early months recently, then suffered a six-game losing streak which all but eliminated them from contention. Back-to-back wins, however, has kept them alive, but without a win this weekend, they can kiss any dreams of the playoffs goodbye.

Where they’re strong: Statistically speaking, this team can run with just about anybody. Philip Rivers, despite his penchant for turning the ball over, commands the second-best offense in the conference. He’s thrown for 3,745 yards and 22 touchdowns, while the running combination of Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert is nothing to sneeze at. They’ll finish with a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver, along with a defense that is in the top half of the league. So where’s the problem? (See below)

Where they’re weak: You can find one glaring weakness that has doomed this year’s version of the Chargers: Turnovers. They’re -7, second-worst in the AFC, and it’s a habit that has cost them more than one game. Rivers, while dangerous in the passing game, has thrown 17 interceptions, and has been sacked 11 times in the fourth quarter. If the score is close late in the fourth quarter, this isn’t exactly the unit you expect to come through in the clutch. Coach Norv Turner is likely out the door, and understandably so. This team has so much talent, yet continues to fall short. That can’t be a coincidence. Force them to turn the ball over, and they usually don’t climb out of that hole.

Overall advantage: I’m glad the league decided to keep this game as the prime-time matchup. There are so many storylines and the outcome could go either way. Baltimore is trying to win the AFC North and possibly earn a first-round bye. Any slip up could cost them a home game in the postseason, something they desperately need. Meanwhile, San Diego is hoping simply to be around in January, and will have to pull off the upset at home in order to keep the dream alive. Can they do it? They’re at home, and it’s a long west coast trip for the Ravens. I say they pull the upset.