Chargers at Colts pregame

Keenan McCardell may miss the game on Sunday for the Chargers. Since his arrival the team is 7-0 but Sunday is a day they could use all the help they can get as they face the Colts in Indy.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/26/04
SURFACE: AstroTurf
TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Randy Cross; DirecTV, 7
SERIES: 21st meeting. The Chargers lead the series, 12-8. The Colts won the last meeting 27-19, which came at Indianapolis. Before Sunday's blanking of the Browns, the Chargers previous shutout came on a Monday night game at Indy in 1993. They clobbered the Colts, 31-0.
2004 RANKINGS: Chargers: offense 12th (5th rush, 19th pass); defense 11th (2nd rush, 26th pass). Colts: offense 2nd (12th rush, 1st pass); defense 28th (21st rush, 29th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: With both teams having three losses and being one-game behind New England in the chase for a first-round bye, there is plenty to play for. The game will likely be decided by San Diego's ability to stop Colts RB Edgerrin James. The Chargers allow just 80.9 rushing yards per game and preventing the Colts from setting up the play-action pass is about San Diego's only chance of surviving. The Colts' receivers far outclass the Chargers' secondary and San Diego must be able to provide support from the safeties, which means they can't be forced into helping stop the run. San Diego's offense will be hurt with WR Keenan McCardell expected to miss his second consecutive game. But the real key is RB LaDainian Tomlinson providing short passing situations. Colts DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are the top sack tandem in the league and the Chargers will struggle if QB Drew Brees is constantly stuck in third-and-long.

FAST FACTS: Chargers: Tomlinson has scored a touchdown in a team-record 11 straight games, which is two shy of the NFL mark held by John Riggins and George Rogers. ... Have clinched first AFC West title since 1994. Colts: Manning needs two touchdown passes to break Dan Marino's single-season NFL record of 48. ... Need 26 points to become 11th NFL team to score 500 in a season.

PREDICTION: Colts 31-23

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

Chargers:
Quarterback Drew Brees will find plenty of backers in Sunday's crowd at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.

"I'm sure there will be a lot of Purdue fans in the crowd," the former Boilermaker star said.

"Obviously, I looked at this game at the beginning of the year saying, 'hey, at Indianapolis, that's going to be a fun one regardless."

Few have had as much fun as Brees this year. He should be even more relaxed and confident on Sunday, after being named to his first Pro Bowl on Wednesday. Brees has thrown for 24 touchdowns and six interceptions.

The Chargers will need a revved Brees, as they are expected to have to match the output from the Colts' Peyton Manning. The focus will find Manning as he needs two more touchdown passes to collect the NFL's single-season mark.

"I don't think this game could be blown up any more than it already is," said Brees, of the matchup between 11-3 teams. "It's going to be a fun one, that's for sure."

Colts:
Running back Edgerrin James will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, but he isn't preoccupied with what the future might hold.

"Next year is going to take care of itself," James said.

The team has several options in retaining its career rushing leader, chief among them would be signing him to a long-term contract or designating him its "franchise" player. The worst-case scenario would be for the team to offer a one-year contract that would worth more than $8 million that will keep James off the open market.

Since March, owner Jim Irsay has signed quarterback Peyton Manning and wide receiver Marvin Harrison to long-term contracts. He has not guaranteed James will return for the 2005 season even though recent media reports have indicated otherwise.

"There has been nothing determined on that," Irsay said. "We'll be talking to all of the agents (of the Colts' free agents-to-be) and our goal has always been to keep our good players."

PERSONNEL NEWS:

Chargers:
Drayton Florence will keep his starting role, even if Sammy Davis (leg) had shown dramatic improvement, which he hasn't. Davis is still restricted in practice. It's unlikely he will go Sunday, and if so, only in a backup role.
Nate Kaeding has hit five of his last six field goals, after experiencing a mini-slump midway through the year. The rookie's only miss in his last six was from 51 yards.
Keenan McCardell (hamstring) continues to just ride a stationary bike during practice. Coach Marty Schottenheimer doesn't sound overly confident about him playing Sunday.
Jesse Chatman (toe) was down on Thursday and Friday, but he will play this weekend.
Tim Dwight (toe) didn't work. But he should take a shot and go Sunday.

Colts:
Rookie FS Bob Sanders had hoped to play Sunday against San Diego. But as it stands right now, Sanders will be watching from the sidelines. He has been recovering from a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee that he suffered four weeks ago at Chicago.
Rick DeMulling has shown some improvement from bruised rib cartilage. DeMulling did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday. He could be a game-time decision.
Rookie OGs Jake Scott and Ryan Lilja could both earn starts this week. Scott would be filling in for OG Tupe Peko, who continues to nurse a gimpy right ankle. Lilja would get the nod if DeMulling is unable to play.
Idrees Bashir will not play against the Chargers. Bashir is rehabbing a strained hamstring that he injured in the second quarter of last week's game with Baltimore.
With Bashir and Sanders not expected to be available for the San Diego game, SSs Cory Bird, Anthony Floyd and Gerome Sapp will probably see more playing time this week.
Sapp, CB Waine Bacon and CB Von Hutchins saw limited work on Thursday but all are expected to play on Sunday. Sapp and Hutchins are both recovering from bruised ribs while Bacon has been nursing a sore neck.
Nick Harper was sidelined during Thursday's practice after experiencing back spasms. Harper has been bothered by a sore back all week. He is expected to play against San Diego.
Marcus Pollard did not practice Wednesday or Thursday due to a sprained right ankle. Pollard hopes to practice on Friday. He may be a game-time decision.


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