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The season could very well be on the line for both the San Diego Chargers and the San Francisco 49ers when the two square off at LP Field on Thursday Night Football this week. Check out our NFL free picks for the duel between these two AFC South rivals, as they both try to close a bit of ground on the Jacksonville Jaguars for the division lead.
Matchup: San Francisco 49ers @ San Diego Chargers
Date: Thursday, December 16th, 8:20 ET
Location: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA
Game Line: San Diego -9.5
49ers Notes: The 49ers kept their season alive last week by knocking off the Seattle Seahawks in a big time way, but Head Coach Mike Singletary knows that there is still plenty of work to be done in order to get into the playoffs as the NFC West champs. Not only is San Fran going to need to win out, but it is probably going to need both the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks to lose twice in these last three to get the job done as well. A loss here isn't a total eliminator, as the playoffs would still potentially be in sight as long as both the Rams and Seahawks don't win on Sunday, but it would certainly be a devastating thought to be one game back of two teams with just two to play. Singletary pushed the right button last week in letting QB Alex Smith get the nod under center, as he threw for 255 yards and three TDs in arguably his best game of the season. He is going to have to get both TE Vernon Davis and WR Michael Crabtree into the game more often than they are used to right now. These two are both Pro Bowl caliber players, but their numbers don't quite warrant it yet. Davis has 49 catches for 744 yards and six scores, while Crabtree is at 42 grabs for 555 yards and five TDs. The key to holding down the San Diego offense though, is going to be the running game, which has really lacked since RB Frank Gore broke his hip. RB Brian Westbrook did have a nice game last week, but the majority of his damage came as a receiver, not as a runner. Defensively, we know that LB Patrick Willis is one of the best in the game, as he has 83 tackles and five sacks this season. Forcing turnovers can be difficult for this team at times, as 19 in 13 games just isn't good enough at this point. Starting G Mike Iupati is questionable with a shoulder injury, and a very thin, yet very solid offensive line cannot afford for him to be out of the fold.
Chargers Notes: Just like San Fran, San Diego did what it had to do last week in beating the Kansas City Chiefs to get back within one game in the AFC West. However, just like with the Niners, the Chargers are going to need to win out and get some help, at least in the form of one more, and potentially two more losses by the men in red and gold. A loss could end any hope of getting into the second season, as it would take an absolutely perfect storm to get San Diego in at that point. For a team that is managing 135 yards and eight points per game more than their foes, the Chargers sure are struggling just to find victories this year. Without a dominating running back to turn to, the ball is going to rest on the right arm of QB Philip Rivers in this one as it has all season long. Rivers is going to become a 4,000 yard passer on the season this week, as he has 3,868 yards and 26 TDs against 11 INTs. His top target has been TE Antonio Gates, who has 50 catches for 782 yards and ten TDs. However, he really hasn't had any consistent threats to throw to all year long, as none of his other targets, save backup TE Randy McMichael, have played in more than ten games this year. Even now, Gates is listed as doubtful on the injury report with a foot injury, and if he can't go in this one, there won't be a target with more than 500 receiving yards in the starting lineup. WR Vincent Jackson is back, but he only has two catches for 29 yards in his two starts. Defensively, this might be the most talented unit in the game, even with the departure of LB Shawne Merriman. LB Kevin Burnett and LB Shaun Phillips probably headline the best linebacking corps in the league. Phillips has ten sacks and 40 tackles for the year, while Burnett is the leader in tackles with 64, has five sacks, two picks, and a defensive TD to show for his work on the year.
The Final Word: This seems like a great spot for the Chargers, as San Fran has underachieved all season long. However, this is the final home game in a very disappointing season for the Bolts, and the pressure is really on HC Norv Turner to win this game. The Niners know that they still have a lifeline left, but they are going to do everything that they can to make sure that they keep this one interesting for the full 60 minutes.
Free Pro Football Picks: San Francisco +9.5
Prediction: San Diego 24 – San Francisco 19