By Dave Thomas
As two teams with .500 records get set to collide Sunday in Tampa, both will be looking to assert themselves in the race for the playoffs.
The San Diego Chargers (4-4) are looking to stay within striking distance of the Denver Broncos (5-3) in the AFC West, while Tampa Bay (4-4) is fighting for a wild card spot, more than likely too far behind unbeaten Atlanta (8-0) to have a legitimate shot at capturing the NFC South.
For those Buccaneers, the season has been one of ups and downs, yet they still find themselves in the NFC playoff race at the halfway point. The offense was clicking last weekend in Oakland, as running back Doug Martin (794 yards rushing on the season, 7 TDs) rushed for a franchise-high 251 yards with four TDs, helping lead the Bucs to a 42-32 win over the Raiders. The 31st pick in the spring draft out of Boise State, Martin was coming off of a 214 yards-from-scrimmage, two-touchdown performance the week before in a win at Minnesota.
Meantime, QB Josh Freeman has looked nothing like the timid and undependable leader he was when first suiting up for the Bucs. Through eight games this season, Freeman has thrown for 2,047 yards, 16 TD’s, with just five interceptions. Freeman’s favorite target has been none other than former Charger Vincent Jackson, who inked a long-term $55 million deal with Tampa Bay last spring. To date, Jackson has 31 catches for 710 yards and six touchdowns.
Can Chargers Move The Ball Effectively And Score?
Yes, the Bucs are more than capable of scoring points, but their defense is not too shabby either, despite giving up 32 points to the Raiders last Sunday, and 41 and 35 in losses to the New York Giants and New Orleans, respectively. Linebacker Lavonte David leads the Bucs with 67 overall tackles, with fellow linebacker Mason Foster not far behind at 59. Safety Ronde Barber paces the team with three interceptions (one for a touchdown), while defensive end Michael Bennett has tallied six sacks.
With a pair of contests remaining against unbeaten Atlanta, along with a road game in Denver (Dec. 2), Tampa Bay would like nothing more than to get a win over a San Diego team that it trails 8-1 in the all-time series. Four of Tampa Bay’s final eight games are against teams with under .500 records (Carolina, Philadelphia, New Orleans and St. Louis), so a win over San Diego would enhance their chances for an NFC wild card spot come the end of December.
With the Bucs having put 42 and 36 points on the board in the last two weeks, respectively, do not look for quite that many against the Chargers. While San Diego gave up 35 points in a loss to Denver last month, they have held their last two opponents (Cleveland and Kansas City) to a mere 20.
Yes, the Browns and Chiefs are hardly scoring juggernauts, but expect this game to be lower scoring, with San Diego’s ability to rattle Freeman in the pocket and get out to an early lead keys to victory.
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Dave Thomas is a freelance writer covering all things Chargers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.