Game-by-Game Analysis: Top Matchups, Part I

The San Diego Chargers prepare to embark on one of the most anticipated seasons in franchise history with a daunting docket on the horizon. Every game presents its unique tests and key matchups. goes game-by-game to break down all the matchups worth watching.

Chargers at Raiders: LB Tim Dobbins vs. FB Lorenzo Neal

Neal spent the 2003-2007 seasons helping LaDainian Tomlinson dismantle the Raiders. This year, he'll be on the opposite side of the in-state rivalry. Neal has some talented runners to work with in Oakland -- Darren McFadden, Justin McFargas and Michael Bush -- so Dobbins will have his hands full at the point of attack.

Chargers vs. Ravens: SS Clinton Hart vs. TE Todd Heap

San Diego failed to slow down opposing tight ends last season and Hart's struggles were a big reason why. Hart is healthy again this season and eager to return to the form he showed in 2007 (85 tackles and five interceptions). He will have his hands full with Heap (6-foot-5, 250 pounds), a big target down the seam who's caught more than 55 passes in four of the last seven seasons.

TE Brandon Manumaleuna
Doug Pensinger/Getty

Chargers vs. Dolphins: TE Brandon Manumaleuna vs. OLB Joey Porter

Porter finished with 17.5 sacks last season, including a half-sack against Philip Rivers in Miami's 17-10 win over San Diego in Week 5. The Chargers will use a variety of protections to slow Porter down, but look for Manumaleuna to be involved in most of them. Whether he's providing chip blocks on the line or lining up as Rivers' personal protector, it will be Manumaleuna's job to keep Porter away from his quarterback.

Chargers at Steelers: C Nick Hardwick vs. NT Casey Hampton

The Chargers were manhandled by the Steelers in last year's playoffs due in large part to San Diego's inability to run the ball, with starter Darren Sproles carrying 11 times for 15 yards. If San Diego is going to have better success this time around, it will start with the inside running game. That means Hardwick, who was never 100 percent healthy last season, will have to hold his own against Hampton (6-foot-1, 325 pounds), a massive run-stuffer and three-time Pro Bowler.

Chargers vs. Broncos: RB LaDainian Tomlinson vs. LB D.J. Williams

Tomlinson has enjoyed some big days against the Broncos, running for more than 95 yards in four of the last six meetings. However, Denver is switching to a 3-4 look this season to help its run defense, which could make life more difficult for LT. The Broncos' D-line will look to keep the Chargers' offensive linemen away from Williams, allowing the speedy sideline-to-sideline 'backer to make life difficult for Tomlinson.

CB Quentin Jammer
Jeff Gross/Getty

Chargers at Chiefs: CB Quentin Jammer vs. WR Dwayne Bowe

In his two seasons in the NFL, Bowe has dominated the Chargers. In four games he's caught 25 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns. This poses a big-time challenge for Jammer, even though Jammer has played the best ball of his career over the last two seasons. Fortunately for San Diego, the absence of Tony Gonzalez should make it a little easier to roll extra coverage Bowe's direction.

Chargers vs. Raiders: WR Vincent Jackson vs. CB Nnamdi Asomugha

Jackson is coming off a standout season in which he set career-highs in receptions (59), yards (1,098) and touchdowns (seven). He'll need to build on that success this season as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. Jackson will face no defensive back tougher than Asomugha, the Raiders' franchise player and one of the few legitimate shutdown cornerbacks in the NFL.

Chargers at Giants: OG Kris Dielman vs. DT Chris Canty

The much ballyhooed matchup between Rivers and Eli Manning will likely be determined by which team can protect the quarterback better. The Chargers will be ready to handle heat off the edge, as the Giants feature two elite pass-rushing ends in Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, so the matchup between Dielman and Canty could be the difference-maker. Dielman, a two-time Pro Bowler, will have to live up to the hype against New York's marquee offseason acquisition.

What matchups are you most excited about? Talk about it in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the 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.

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