TV: NBC (Al Michaels, John Madden, Andrea Kremer)
SERIES: 26th meeting. The Chargers lead the series 15-10, and the teams are tied 1-1 in postseason matchups. The Chargers fell to the Colts in the regular season this year at home, 23-20. But last season, the Chargers upset the host Colts in a divisional playoff game, 28-24. The Chargers pulled off the unlikely victory despite QB Philip Rivers and RB LaDainian Tomlinson not playing down the stretch because of knee injuries.
PREDICTION: Colts 30-27
KEYS TO THE GAME:
QB Philip Rivers
Colts: The Chargers finished the regular season 31st in defending the pass. They've had some success creating turnovers against Colts QB Peyton Manning in the past, including nine interceptions in three meetings the past two seasons. But while Manning is playing well and has a deep set of downfield targets, the Chargers don't generate a consistent pass rush and the cornerbacks, particularly Antonio Cromartie, have struggled all season even though the defense has stepped it up since defensive coordinator Ron Rivera took over. If RB Joseph Addai is able to have success early, the Chargers will be extremely vulnerable off play-action.
Chargers: Tomlinson (groin) has been limited in practice but will play; TE Antonio Gates (ankle) is expected to play.
Colts: LB Gary Brackett (broken right fibula) is out; RB Dominic Rhodes (chest/ribs) and SS Bob Sanders (knee) will play.
FAST FACTS: The teams have split two previous playoff meetings, included a 28-24 Chargers win at home in the Divisional playoffs last season. ... Manning is tied with Dan Fouts for second place in NFL history with five 300-yard passing games in the playoffs. Joe Montana had six.
RB Darren Sproles
-- LB Brandon Siler (foot) didn't practice Thursday and could be down Saturday.
-- WR Malcolm Floyd (lung) continues to practice and could be active Saturday after missing two games.
-- RB Michael Bennett could be active for the first time since the team picked him up on waivers. Tomlinson's health could determine his status.
-- ILB Stephen Cooper has four interceptions and 41 tackles in his last four games. Those four picks are the most of any NFL linebacker and the most by a Chargers linebacker since Donnie Edwards had five in 2004.
LB Gary Brackett
--C Jamey Richard (ankle) did not practice Thursday. Richard was hurt last Sunday against Tennessee and has not taken part in any workouts this week. His status for the San Diego game won't be known until Friday.
--OG Mike Pollak (foot/ankle) has not practiced this week. Pollak was injured in last week's win over Tennessee. His availability for this weekend's AFC wild card game with San Diego has not been decided.
--OG Dan Federkeil is expected to get the start at right guard if Pollak is unable to play Saturday night. Federkeil has experience at both guard spots this season.
--DT Eric Foster (finger) returned to practice on Thursday. There is a chance that Foster will be available to play Saturday night at San Diego.
--RB Chad Simpson did not practice Thursday as he rested a sore ankle. Simpson is expected to be available to play at San Diego.
--RB Dominic Rhodes (chest/ribs) has been able to practice this week. Rhodes is expected to see extensive playing time against the San Diego Chargers this week.
--WR Pierre Garcon (knee) returned to practice on Thursday. Garcon's availability for the San Diego game won't be known until Friday.
--CB Keiwan Ratliff (groin) returned to practice Thursday and will be available to play at San Diego Saturday night.
--S Bob Sanders (knee) has put in work in practice this week. Sanders, who practiced Thursday, is expected to be in the starting lineup for the Colts against San Diego on Saturday night.
--WR Anthony Gonzalez (hip) has practiced all week. Gonzalez, who was dinged up in last week's win over Tennessee, is expected to play Saturday night against the Chargers.
--CB Tim Jennings practiced Thursday and will start against the Chargers Saturday night.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
RB LaDainian Tomlinson
But that scenario was scrapped as Tomlinson (strained groin) and Gates (sprained ankle) stayed down for another day.
The Chargers continue workouts Friday for Saturday's divisional playoff game, and it's not known if Tomlinson and Gates will participate.
But even if they go, that would be just a walk-through session, meaning the two Chargers stars won't have a real practice before game day.
The decision, though, is not to push either player leading up to the game. They will test how they can move and how much pain they can withstand before kickoff.
Both players were compromised last season in the playoffs as well.
Tomlinson didn't play down the stretch of the Chargers' upset of the Colts. He then was limited to some first-quarter action in the AFC Championship Game before being idled.
Gates was limited for most the playoffs after injuring his toe in the team's first-round game against the Titans. Gates would play in Indianapolis and New England, but his movement was restricted.
Of the two, Gates appears to be in the greatest danger of missing Saturday's game.
"If we were playing today he probably wouldn't play," coach Norv Turner said.
When asked if Tomlinson could play if they played Thursday, Turner said he thought his star back could go.
He's most encouraged that the players are improving.
"Both of them are a lot better than they have been," Turner said. "It really will be a Saturday decision, how they feel. We'll get them out there and run around and see how they feel. I'm optimistic about both of them."
The Chargers, after their unlikely path to the AFC West title, were upbeat about their health before their play-in victory over the Broncos. The team was as fit as it had been all year, then Gates and Tomlinson were sidelined.
"I hope to play, but ultimately it's not really my decision," Tomlinson said. "Game day, we'll see how coach feels and what he wants to do. But hopefully I'll be able to go."
HC Tony Dungy
The fact that this week's matchup will be the fourth meeting in the last two seasons between the Colts and Chargers means that both franchises know each other pretty well by now.
According to Dungy, the key for Indianapolis to be successful on defense centers around his team's ability to put pressure on San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers throughout the game.
"I think it'll be very important. That was big in the last playoff game (against the Chargers) that we lost (at the RCA Dome last season). We didn't get much pressure, didn't get around him. They threw a lot of deep balls up the field, made big plays. We need to be better than we were in the (2007) playoffs game for sure," the Colts coach said.
Rivers finished the 2008 regular season as the NFL's top-rated passer with a team-record 105.5 rating. He set a franchise record with 34 touchdown passes, which led the league this season, while throwing for 4,009 yards.
"(San Diego has been) making big plays. And they've always been a big-play offense. The mistakes are down. The thing that I see most is the fourth quarter scoring. They've scored a ton of points in the fourth quarter," Dungy said.
"When they've had to move the ball and had to get points, they've done it. That's probably the mark of a great quarterback, how you do in the pressure situations."