KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: CBS, Gus Johnson, Steve Tasker
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LIVE RADIO FAN COMMENTARY: SeriousFans.org on SportsTalkCleveland in-game commentary
SERIES: 21st meeting. The Chargers lead the series 12-7. The Browns and Chargers played to a 16-16 tie in 1973. San Diego has won five of the last six games played between the two teams.
*2006 RANKINGS: Browns: offense 31st (31st rush, 27th pass); defense 17th (28th rush, 5th pass). Chargers: offense 3rd (2nd rush, 15th pass); defense 2nd (6th rush, 6th pass)
PREDICTION: Chargers 23-17
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Chargers finally got RB LaDainian Tomlinson untracked on the ground last weekend and figure to feature the run heavily again against a Browns defense allowing 136.1 rushing yards per game. San Diego simply wants to avoid turnovers because its defense should dominate the game even without suspended OLB Shawne Merriman. The issue for Cleveland will be in running the ball well enough to set up shots against San Diego's weaker secondary. Chargers DT Jamal Williams has a 50-pound advantage on Browns C Hank Fraley and should be able to clog up the middle, meaning Browns RB Reuben Droughns will have a difficult time running between the tackles. With or without help from the ground game, Browns QB Charlie Frye must avoid turnovers because Cleveland has to do just about everything right to keep the game close into the fourth quarter.
FAST FACTS: Browns: Have won eight of their past 10 game when scoring at least 20 points. ... Defense is second in NFL allowing just 5.42 net yards per pass play. Chargers: Will wear throwback uniforms in honor of Alumni Weekend. ... Have won seven consecutive November games. ... Seek first 4-0 home record since 2001.
- WR Dennis Northcutt returned to practice for the first time since hurting his
ribs Oct. 8. Northcutt has a good chance to return to the field and play the
role as the third receiver.
- CB Daven Holly spent the better part of two days in the hospital having an
illness investigated. The Browns would not reveal the nature of the illness, but
it appears doubtful that Holly will play Sunday.
- C Hank Fraley will have his hands full with San Diego DT Jamal Williams.
Williams should be able to handle Fraley and plug the middle of the line,
slowing Reuben Droughns' running.
- OT Ryan Tucker remains on an excused absence from the team. It appears Kelly Butler will step in for the second week in a row. Butler acquitted himself
fairly well in his first start against the Jets, but faces a much tougher
challenge against the Chargers defense.
- QB Charlie Frye may see his attempts drop as the Browns turn to a more
ball-control style of offense. The switch to Jeff Davidson as offensive
coordinator has bolstered the running game, which could affect Frye's attempts.
- LB Willie McGinest has been slowed by calf and ankle injuries and may not face the Chargers. The last thing the Browns need is a hobbling linebacker as they try to stop RB LaDainian Tomlinson.
- OLB Shaun Phillips (calf) was hoping to test his injury in practice Thursday,
but he didn't, and it looks as if he'll miss his second consecutive game.
Marques Harris would replace him.
- DE Igor Olshansky practiced for the first time since injuring his knee Oct. 15
in San Francisco. But he had to shut it down before the workout was completed,
and it looks as if he is down again Sunday. Jacques Cesaire would replace him.
- S Clinton Hart (hip) didn't work out Thursday, and he's somewhat surprised at
his inability to practice. He could be down Sunday.
- S Bhawoh Jue (knee) was able to practice Thursday. His presence would lessen
the impact of S Clinton Hart (hip) potentially missing Sunday's game.
- RB LaDainian Tomlinson could be in for a big game Sunday. In three career games against the Browns, he has rushed for 100 yards in each contest, including going for 200 in one outing. He averages nearly 6 yards per carry and 137 yards per game. The Browns run defense is ranked 28th, giving up 136 rushing yards per game.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Kellen Winslow sounds eager about having a big game Sunday in San Diego. For Winslow, it's personal.
He will be returning to the town where he grew up and where his Hall of Fame father played professionally.
And he will face Antonio Gates, one of the other top tight ends in the league.
"I look at it like it's a heavyweight match," Winslow said. "It's me vs. Gates."
One he takes personally.
"I'm trying to be the best," he said. "I said I was the best. I am the best. And I'm going to prove it on Sunday."
Winslow leads all NFL tight ends with 40 catches, but he watched from the sidelines the past two years while Gates caught 81 and 89 passes for 964 and 1,101 yards.
Winslow does not back down. In training camp he said he would never be 100 percent after hurting his knee in a motorcycle accident, but 90 percent of him is better than every tight end in the league.
"That's not being arrogant," he said. "I am. I know what I can do. They know what I can do. The defensive coordinator knows what I can do."
First things first: Carlos Polk is not Shawne Merriman. Not even close.
But Polk will have to sub for Merriman for the next four weeks, holding down his outside linebacker spot while Merriman serves his suspension for a positive drug test.
"He's been waiting for this moment for his whole life," veteran linebacker Randall Godfrey said. "I hate that it is this late in his career, but it's good for him."
This is Polk's sixth season, but Sunday will mark his first NFL start. He has made his mark with the Chargers as a special teams dynamo, when he can stay healthy.
In offseason workouts in 2005, he tore his Achilles tendon and landed on injured reserve. The year before that he suffered a shoulder injury that restricted him to one game.
Now all eyes are on him as he fills in for one of the NFL's top defensive players on one of the NFL's top defensive units.
"He's a good football player," coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "I think he will do fine. He understands what he is doing. He is a savvy veteran."
Polk was the team's co-special teams player of the year in 2003. And he'll still be asked to contribute on special teams Sunday, despite his newfound status as a starter.
"I'm just going to try and do my job and not try to do too much," Polk said. "Just do my job and I'm sure everything else will work out like it is supposed to."