--It is too early in the season to talk about must-win games, but Sunday's showdown against the Oakland Raiders is a season-changer. A win would be San Diego's first on the road and its first in the AFC West. Also, because the division-leading Kansas City Chiefs (3-0) are a safe bet to lose Sunday in Indianapolis, a Chargers victory would bring them within a half-game of the division lead.
If the Chargers lose, they drop to 0-3 on the road and 0-2 in the division. San Diego would also risk alienating a fan base that has failed to sell out a home game in 2010, because there is nothing Chargers fans hate more than losing to the Raiders.
--From the blacktop to the Black Hole. That will be the case for a couple newcomers who signed as street free agents this week. LB Cyril Obiozor will likely be active thanks to the absence of Larry English (foot) and the placement of Jyles Tucker on injured-reserve. Also, the Chargers cannot count on Shawne Merriman for anything at this point.
Also, 11-year veteran SS Tyrone Carter figures to be up because of Steve Gregory's suspension and Darrell Stuckey's lingering hamstring injury.
--Last week was the Antonio Gates show, as the Arizona Cardinals allowed the All Pro tight end to explode for seven catches, 144 yards and two TDs. But the Raiders are a much tougher defense than the Cardinals (ranked No. 11 compared to No. 29), so the Chargers will have to spread things around to keep Oakland off balance.
Buster Davis and Patrick Crayton, both of whom were held without a catch last week, will need to make an impact out of the slot. Legedu Naanee (one catch for 4 yards last week) also needs to reassert himself in the offense. TE Randy McMichael could be a secret weapon if the Raiders smother San Diego's other options.
--The Chargers used to run wild in Oakland with LaDainian Tomlinson spearheading the rushing attack. But with L.T. now in New York, how will Norv Turner replicate those results? Mike Tolbert got the bulk of the carries last week and responded with his first career 100-yard game, but first-round pick Ryan Mathews is fully healthy now and figures to become the featured back again sometime soon. Also, the team's highest paid runner (Darren Sproles) is averaging less than six touches from scrimmage per game, a trend that needs to end quickly.
--Sunday will likely be Brandyn Dombrowski's last start at left tackle, as Marcus McNeill will come off the roster-exempt list before the Week 7. So, Dombrowski wants to play well to make sure it isn't his last start of the season. Dombrowski could push Jeromey Clary for the starting gig at right tackle, but Clary will not be easy to supplant -- he moved into the starting lineup in 2007 and has started every game since, minus the six games he missed due to injury last season.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.
Bolts Notebook: 10-8
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