Bring on the Jets

The Chargers are getting back to work Sunday by welcoming the New York Jets to Qualcomm Stadium in an AFC divisional playoff game. Is that good news or bad?

On the surface it looks keen as the Chargers get the No. 5 seed, a team that will have to travel three time zones to reach San Diego.

With the Baltimore Ravens prevailing over the New England Patriots, the team that had eliminated the Chargers from two of their past three playoff appearances was itself eliminated.

But the Chargers need to be careful what they wished for and give the Jets the same attention as a visit from the Patriots would warrant.

The Jets have the No. 1 overall defense and the top defense in stopping the pass. The Chargers move the ball through the air, but can they do it against a Jets team that shines in that category?

Another matchup problem the Chargers might curse: While making many big stops at key moments throughout a 13-3 season, the run defense is suspect. It hasn't played with the consistency the team had hoped since losing Pro Bowl tackle Jamal Williams in the opener to an injury.

The Jets love to run the ball; it takes pressure off their rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez. The Jets ran the ball better and more often than any other team, and that could cause the Chargers fits.

It's obvious the Jets won't want to get into a shootout with the Chargers. Not with Sanchez, who had an AFC-high 20 interceptions, going against Philip Rivers, who was third in the MVP balloting.

So look for the Jets to run the ball with regularity, especially if they can grab a lead at some point over the Chargers.

The Chargers do have momentum with an impressive 11-game win streak to cap a regular season that resulted in their fourth straight AFC West title.

"I don't know about momentum, because I think there is something to it, but we don't have a game in 30 minutes," Rivers said shortly after the Chargers' final game. "I think from week-to-week they all stand alone but I think any time you can string 11 in a row together it does mean something."

But after a week off and the Jets coming off the upset win over the Bengals, where is that momentum now?

Somewhere else, because the Chargers know their regular-season success means zip.

"It's always a new season," coach Norv Turner said. "If you want something in this league, you have to earn it."

LINEUP WATCH: OLB Shawne Merriman rested last week, which came on the heels of him not playing in the regular-season finale because of a foot injury. While Merriman is always the starter if he is fit, he doesn't always play a lot when he's ailing. With him taking basically three weeks off between games, the expectations are for Merriman to be as healthy as he has been at any part of the season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2004 -- That was the year the Chargers were as confident as they are entering this season's playoffs. They had won the AFC West title and were entertaining a certain wild-card entrant many felt was fortunate to reach the playoffs. Yep, the Jets, and they crushed the Chargers' playoff hopes by winning in overtime.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--K Nate Kaeding finished on a hot streak and was the AFC's special teams player of the week in the last week of the regular season. Kaeding has a playoff score to settle with the Jets as he missed a 40-yard field goal in overtime the last time these teams played.

--WR Vincent Jackson has benefitted from the playoff bye, resting his ailing Achilles' tendon. Jackson said he is fine, but his injury is worth watching.

--DE Jacques Cesaire (elbow) is back practicing and that is a huge boost for a defensive line that is thin on talent and experience.

--TE Antonio Gates has enjoyed the best season of his career in many categories and the reason is simple: He's healthy. Gates, while still a cut above most of the rest, has been hobbled the last couple of years with toe, foot and hip injuries.

--QB Billy Volek is a player the Chargers hope doesn't see the field in the playoffs. But the backup QB enters the postseason with confidence after pulling out a win for the Chargers against the Redskins. It was Volek, filling in for an injured Philip Rivers, who led the Chargers over the Colts two seasons ago in the second round of the playoffs.


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