TV: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms)
PREDICTION: Chargers 21-17
KEYS TO THE GAME: Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez played efficiently and with poise in last Saturday's victory in Cincinnati. Of course, he was again bolstered by a strong ground game led by RBs Thomas Jones and Shonn Green, allowing Sanchez to often work off play-action. Look for the Jets' ground game to attack between the tackles, where the Chargers are starting September signee NT Ian Scott due to injuries.
San Diego wants to put Sanchez in third-and-longs and force him into bad decisions under heavy pressure. With CB Darrelle Revis expected to shadow WR Vincent Jackson much of the day, look for Rivers to lean heavily on WR Malcom Floyd and TE Antonio Gates. Gates will often be matched against SS Kerry Rhodes, who earned back his starting job with more aggressive play. San Diego's goal will be to score early and force the Jets out of their comfort zone playing from behind. The Chargers are mirror opposites from the Bengals, as San Diego won't run the ball heavily but does have excellent pass protection and a deep and healthy receiving corps capable of stretching the field.
FAST FACTS: Chargers RB Darren Sproles needs 51 yards to become the quickest player in NFL history to reach 1,000 career all-purpose yards in the postseason (six games). ... Sanchez can join Baltimore's Joe Flacco (2008) as the only rookie quarterbacks in NFL history to win their first two playoff games.
--C Nick Mangold, who already is set to make his second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance, was named to the All-Pro team.
--CB Darrelle Revis was named to the All-Pro team. Earlier in the week, Revis finished second to Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson in the balloting for the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
--Reserve QB Erik Ainge missed practice Thursday because of migraine headaches. Ainge has yet to appear in a game this season.
--RB Thomas Jones (knee) returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday.
--FB Tony Richardson returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday.
LB Shawne Merriman
-- OLB Shaun Phillips was bothered down the stretch with a sore hip and ankle. But he is running free and has declared himself fit for Sunday.
-- RB LaDainian Tomlinson has usually broken down by this time the last two seasons. But he enters the playoffs fresh; while the Chargers are built around the pass, coach Norv Turner would have no problem leaning on Tomlinson and the running game if the situations dictates it.
-- WR Vincent Jackson has likely benefited the most from the bye week. His sore Achilles' tendon was an issue down the stretch but he's been able to give it rest and he is running well. Still, it's worth watching as the game progresses.
-- DE Jacques Cesaire (elbow) is a go for Sunday as he continues to practice. He missed the last two games but is looking good.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
After being almost an afterthought in the Jets' consecutive victories to close the regular season, rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez was a major contributor in the Jets' 24-14 wild-card victory over Cincinnati.
Sanchez was 12-for-15 for 182 yards and one touchdown pass, and could have had 41 more yards and another score had Braylon Edwards held on to a well-thrown ball in the end zone. And just as in the previous two games, Sanchez didn't turn the ball over.
"You figure out through this process what helps your team win and then you know what gets you beat and turnovers get you beat," said Sanchez, who had 12 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions during the regular season. "In this league, turnovers will get you beat. When we don't turn the ball over, we have a chance."
Sanchez may have to raise his game Sunday when the Jets visit San Diego in the AFC divisional playoffs. The Chargers, winners of 11 straight, averaged 28.4 points during the regular season and didn't score fewer than 20 points in a game.
It may be time to take off the training wheels and let Sanchez air it out. That is, if the Jets find themselves trailing San Diego and its explosive offense.
"If we have to play that way, I think Mark would be fine," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said Thursday. "I think he's gotten to the point where he understands that he's just got to go through his progressions, and if something's not there down the field, then don't throw it and take the check-down instead. He's not forcing the ball like he was earlier in this season."
"It was a confidence-building game and it was important to win on the road like that in a hostile environment against a very good team," Sanchez said, referring to the victory over the Bengals. "Now we just need to build on it. We're rolling right now. We feel like things are going well, but we still have a long way to go."
The Jets also could use a breakout game from Edwards, who has had problems with drops. Both Schottenheimer and Sanchez say they haven't lost confident in the talented but inconsistent wideout.
"He's in a tough position," Sanchez said. "Does he think he should catch those balls? Absolutely. Do we talk about it? All the time. Do we get in the extra work? Yes, so we're doing the right things to make that happen. It's only a matter of time. He's a playmaker. He's a stud and you feed the stud. You just keep throwing him the ball and he's bound to catch it."
The Chargers are hoping some home cooking is the right recipe for a win on Sunday.
The Jets are headed to Qualcomm Stadium this weekend for an AFC divisional playoff game. The Chargers are glad to be in San Diego, but they also know it is no guarantee for a victory.
In their last four playoff games at home, they have won but twice.
"We had a huge win here against the Colts last year," outside linebacker Shaun Phillips said. "We've had some playoff wins away as well, but it obviously, to have the ability to be at home, to be able to prepare and know you don't have to travel. Not only that, but you guys saw how our fans were the last couple of home games, against Cincinnati where they had I think three false starts late in the game, as loud as they've been, as loud as they were in the playoff game last year where I think that's the most animated I've ever seen our fans and our crowd."
That same crowd will attend Sunday, showing the scars of the Chargers' recent playoff pratfalls.
In the 2006 season, the Chargers held a fourth-quarter lead against the Patriots, only to self-destruct down the stretch and lose.
In the 2004 season, these same Jets came to town for a wild-card game and upset the Chargers in overtime.
But the Chargers are upbeat about not having to get on a plane, while their opponent must cross three time zones. That's the benefit of earning the AFC's No. 2 seed with a 13-3 record.
"We're excited about that," Phillips said. "You work so hard during the regular season to earn the ability to have that home game. We're here. Now it's a matter of taking advantage of that and going and making the fans a little bit more excited, giving them some big plays to cheer about and have a little fun."
Coach Rex Ryan predicted the good times might be over for the Chargers. In his eyes, the Chargers have won 11 straight games so they are due for a stinker.
Phillips counters that the Chargers have already hit some rough spots, but came out OK.
"I personally believe that we have had bad games but we've been able to overcome adversity," Phillips said. "There are games like the Giants game where we had to claw and fight and come back and win that game. Again, we overcame adversity.
"We can't think about what Coach Ryan has to say. We have to think about what we do. We are going to continue with the mindset that it's about what the Chargers do and how we execute our game plan."
And they get to do just that at home, sweet home.