Legedu Naanee, who missed last week's game with a hamstring injury and sat out again during Wednesday's practice, needs to play and play well. The Chargers will be without Malcom Floyd (hamstring) and will have a limited Antonio Gates (toe), so Naanee will be the most talented pass catcher at Philip Rivers' disposal.
Naanee has been hit or miss this season. He combined for nine catches and 163 yards in the losses in Kansas City and Seattle, yet has been held to one catch or less in every other contest. It is vital he shows up in Week 7 against a pass defense that ranks as the second worst in the AFC.
Passing the Test
San Diego enters Sunday's contest with the league's No. 1 pass defense, an impressive feat for a team with a spotty pass rush. Of course, Ron Rivera's unit was aided by a schedule that served up Matt Cassel, David Garrard, Matt Hasselbeck, Derek Anderson, Jason Campbell and rookie Sam Bradford -- hardly a murder's row of quarterbacks.
The secondary will get its biggest test of the season against Tom Brady & Co. Brady has been efficient as ever this season, ranking No. 4 in completion percentage (67.5) and No. 6 in passer rating (98.5).
It will help if the Chargers' home-field advantage continues. San Diego averages 5.5 sacks per game at home this season compared to just 2.5 per game on the road.
It is also key that Antoine Cason bounces back after a rough outing in St. Louis. The Patriots have two elusive receivers in Wes Welker and Deion Branch, so Cason will have a tough assignment on every snap.
What can Brown do for you?
Kris Brown, who will fill in for the injured Nate Kaeding this week, enters Sunday's game with 13 game-winning kicks on his résumé. It will be interesting to see what happens if he secures No. 14 against New England.
Kaeding is unpopular in San Diego because of his too-frequent postseason flameouts. If Brown performs well in Kaeding's place, there will be plenty of calls to make the change permanent.
To be fair, Kaeding has never had many problems in the regular season, as his 86.7 career conversation rate makes him the most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history. And for all his postseason disasters, his best playoff game came against the Patriots in 2008, when he connected on all four field-goal attempts to account for all of the Chargers' scoring in a 21-12 loss in the AFC Championship Game.
Who is the X-factor in Sunday's game? Cast your vote inside the message boards.
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: 10-21
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