TV: FOX (Matt Vasgersian, JC Pearson, Nischelle Turner)
SERIES: 8th regular-season meeting. The Falcons lead the series 6-1 and have never lost in San Diego. The Falcons have four consecutive victories over the Chargers. In 2004, Atlanta won a 21-20 decision in the last meeting between the two teams. That win improved the Falcons' record 5-1, and they went on to reach the NFC Championship game.
PREDICTION: Chargers 30-26
KEYS TO THE GAME:
There will be a pivotal matchup in the trenches with Chargers NT Jamal Williams taking on the Falcons' physical line. Williams has the ability to throw a wrench in Atlanta's run-first philosophy if he can control the interior and force RB Michael Turner to bounce outside, where the Chargers' fast linebackers have a better chance of containing him. Even with their league-worst pass defense, the Chargers still want to put the game on the arm of QB Matt Ryan. Atlanta leads the league with 88 first-quarter points and would get a big boost with a quick start on the road, where Ryan has a 72.0 passer rating.
RB LaDainian Tomlinson said the Chargers are more of a passing team this season, and that's not going to change Sunday. The Falcons are allowing 230.7 passing yards per game and Chargers QB Philip Rivers is 18-3 with 29 touchdowns in 21 career starts at home. But to really take advantage of the Falcons' mediocre secondary, Rivers needs good protection. Falcons DE John Abraham has 12 sacks and will be working primarily against LT Marcus McNeill on Rivers' blind side.
Chargers: DE Luis Castillo (groin) is expected to play; FB Mike Tolbert (shoulder) is likely to be replaced by Jacob Hester.
Falcons: Abraham (head, shoulder) said he will play; LT Sam Baker (hip) is likely out.
FAST FACTS: Turner has 12 rushing touchdowns at home vs. just one on the road. ... With three receptions, Tomlinson will become just the fifth player in NFL history with 10,000 rushing yards and 500 receptions.
-- DT Jamal Williams practiced Thursday and will start Sunday.
-- LB Brandon Siler (foot) practiced Thursday and will play Sunday.
-- CB Cletis Gordon (knee) practiced Thursday and will play Sunday.
-- DE Keith Grennan (fibula) didn't practice Thursday and could sit Sunday.
-- FB Mike Tolbert (shoulder) didn't practice Thursday and isn't expected to play Sunday. Rookie Jacob Hester will make his first start.
-- DE Luis Castillo (groin) was limited Thursday and will be a game-time decision. If he can't start Jacques Cesaire would replace him.
--QB Matt Ryan has completed 186 of 310 passes for 2,418 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions for an 88.3 passer rating. He has guided the Falcons to a 5-1 home record thus far. They are 2-3 on the road.
--RB Jerious Norwood has rushed for 394 yards on 73 carries for a 5.4 average and two touchdowns. He also has a 67-yard reception for a touchdown.
--RB Michael Turner ranks third in the NFL with 1,088 yards rushing.
--WR Michael Jenkins, who signed a four-year contract extension, has 33 catches for 498 yards and three touchdowns.
--WR Roddy White has five 100-yard receiving games on the season. He needs 27 yards receiving to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season. He had 1,202 yards receiving last season.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Left tackle Marcus McNeill practiced again on Thursday, not missing a workout this week after suffering a slight hip injury last Sunday night.
McNeill needs to fit this Sunday when trying to slow down Falcons defensive end John Abraham.
"He's got speed, got a nice inside move and he plays the run," McNeill said. "We are just going to have to be on our best game this week."
DE John Abraham
Abraham can swoop in from either side -- he lines up where the tight end doesn't. Right tackle Jeromey Clary will also get to wrestle with Abraham.
"He goes to the weak side and both of us have kind of a game plan for him," McNeill said. "And we want to try for him not to make too much noise."
Quarterback Philip Rivers can make a racket when given time. He has been sacked twice in four of the last five games.
"(Abraham) is an explosive guy and we played him a few years ago when he was with the Jets," said Rivers. "We have to be aware of him."
McNeill said Abraham knows the game as well as having a quick burst.
"Whenever you've got a guy that actually knows the game and they know the ins and outs of it, it is going to be a bigger task for me," McNeill said. "He knows the game and has been around for a while. So we got our hands full this week."
Abraham has forced 30 fumbles since 2000, the fourth-most over that span. Rivers has lost three fumbles this season.
"I know he is a great player and I just look forward to the challenge," McNeill said. "That and trying to contain him."
LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner used to share the same backfield. Turner was a productive fifth-round pick out of Northern Illinois.
The Chargers, with one of the top backs in the game, retained Turner for as long as they could.
RB Michael Turner
Turner is currently out-rushing Tomlinson -- 1,088 to 770 yards. But both have 1,099 total yards, as Tomlinson has 39 catches for 329 yards. Turner had just four catches for 11 yards.
Turner has 13 touchdowns to Tomlinson's six. The Falcons are not worried about Turner getting over-hyped for his homecoming game.
"I don't think he's approached it any differently," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "Michael is very even paced. He's very consistent on how he's prepared all year."
They don't expect Turner to react like a robot.
"I know he's excited to see some old friends," Smith said. "Anytime you go back and play against guys that you've been around for a number of years, it's going to be fun."
Turner's low-to-the-ground running style has helped to power the Falcons' offense and allowed rookie QB Matt Ryan to develop at his own pace.
"He's been unbelievable," Ryan said. "To be able to turn around hand the ball off to him with all that he's capable of doing, is huge."
Ryan credits Turner and the run game with helping his development.
"He takes a lot of pressure off our passing game," Ryan said.