Playoff Preview?

Although the Chargers have already suffered twice as many defeats as last year, they are still one of the most respected teams in the league. The Chargers have won four of their last five games and sit alone atop the AFC West. Says Jack Del Rio: "We're going to have to play our best game to have a shot to stay with these guys."

The Chargers won't generate 11 Pro Bowl invites like they did last season, but there could be some new faces joining the regulars in Hawaii. Mike Scifres is on a tear, landing 17 of his last 22 punts inside the 20-yard line and booming at least one 60-yard punt in each of the last three games.

Making an even stronger case is Antonio Cromartie, who has scored three touchdowns and intercepted an NFL-high six interceptions in the last four weeks. Cromartie is motivated to keep his hot streak alive as he returns to his home state to face the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"This is the first time my whole family gets to come out and watch me play, so it will be a good thing for me," Cromartie said.

Cromartie will make his second career start against the Jaguars. He will likely start in place of Quentin Jammer, who will play limited snaps as he works his way back from a hamstring injury.

The return of Jammer is a boon for the defense. Jammer is one of the best tackling corners in the league and the Chargers will need him to stick his nose in there against Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew.

"(The Chargers') three corners are as talented as any three we've seen on tape this year," said Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio.

The Chargers' pass defense is in the midst of an up-and-down season, ranking No. 25 in yards allowed (239 per game) yet leading the league in interceptions (17).

Of course, the credit for the high number of picks must be shared with outside linebackers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips, who are tied for the team lead with 5.5 sacks each.

"Shawne Merriman is a wrecking ball. He's a good football player, tough, brings it every down and plays with great energy and passion," Del Rio said. "Shaun Phillips on the other side is equally disruptive."

The Jaguars feel fortunate to see their starting quarterback return just in time to face the Chargers. David Garrard missed the last three games with an ankle injury but will be under center when the Chargers invade Alltel Stadium.

"He's a very good runner. He manages their offense extremely well and he's a very accurate passer," said Norv Turner of Garrard.

Garrard has thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions this season. He squares off with a defense that forced at least two turnovers in six straight games and eight of nine overall. One of those streaks will snap on Sunday, and it will likely determine who leaves with the ‘W'.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.

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