Five To Watch: Chargers v. Chiefs I

Big time players step up in big time games. For Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards, Sunday's game against the Chargers is clearly the biggest game of his tenure thus far. A win over the Chargers would ensure that Kansas City's season is not in despair. A loss, and it very well could be.

It's been anything but a slam-dunk season for the Chiefs. They're 2-3 overall, 0-1 in the division and 0-3 in the conference. They can ill afford a loss against the Chargers.

Championship teams, like the one many believe the Chargers will be at season's end, know how to put away inferior opponents. After last week's blowout at the hands of Pittsburgh, San Diego probably feels like the Chiefs have lost their way.

As I watched the game again on my DVR yesterday, I was looking for some positive inspiration that would lead me to believe the Chiefs have a shot at beating San Diego. Honestly, I couldn't find too many. But since I'm an eternal optimist (or a glutton for punishment), I simply chalked up the loss to the Steelers doing everything right and the Chiefs doing everything wrong.

I came away from my second helping of the game clearly believing that the Chiefs won't let that happen this weekend. At least I hope not.

The Chargers enter this weekend with a 4-1 record. They beat three patsies (Raiders, Titans, 49ers), one halfway decent team (Steelers – in San Diego) and one that was hot at the time (Ravens – in Baltimore).

Of those games, only the contest in Baltimore presented any real challenges for the Chargers. The rest of the teams on the list played awful games.

This game will be a test for the Chargers, who face the Chiefs, Bengals and Broncos on the road in three of the next five weeks. This weekend's game might be the easiest of the three. That's not a good sign, regardless of which team you root for.

Logic dictates that the Chargers are clearly the better of the two teams. Statistically, they are superior in every category. They have the third-ranked offense and the top defense.

The key for the Chargers this season has been the steady and somewhat surprising performance of quarterback Philip Rivers. He's the fifth-ranked passer in the NFL and is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. It doesn't appear that he's struggling to throw the ball. After the loss in Baltimore, Marty Schottenheimer took the shackles off Rivers, and he's responded.

But can it last, and will he learn from his poor performance in Baltimore?

Something tells me that he won't be all that fazed with the Arrowhead crowd. As long as the Chargers are running the ball and LaDainian Tomlinson is finding the end zone, San Diego can probably steam roll through Kansas City and get a win.

To prevent that, the Chiefs need to play like their backs are against the wall. In fact, they need to have that attitude and mindset the rest of the season.

Edwards delivered quite a sermon in Wednesday morning's team meeting. He didn't like the way the Steelers game turned out and he didn't like the effort from his players. He made it clear that won't cut it in a Kansas City Chiefs uniform.

Every team gets their butts handed to them at least once during the regular season. To the players' credit, they didn't mope in the locker room. Instead they went back to work and are preparing hard to show they're a better football team than the one that lined up in Pittsburgh.

They have an opportunity to put doubt back in the minds of the Chargers and Denver Broncos and make this a true three-team race down the stretch. It's gut check time.

Five to Watch:
1. RB Larry Johnson - I was very impressed with LJ this week. He chatted with the media like the leader of the offense. He didn't make any excuses. He's not pouting, and after five games he knows the bull's eye is on his jersey. He's facing the NFL's top-ranked defense and a linebacker in Shawne Merriman who probably ended Priest Holmes' career. It's time for LJ to play smash-mouth football and hit the Chargers in the gut of their defense.

2. LT Jordan Black - I went on record last week that Black isn't the man who can get the job done at left tackle. For at least one more week, he'll get another chance to prove me wrong. The light has to come on quick. With John Welbourn almost certain to return to the roster in the next week or two and Kyle Turley and Will Svitek getting healthier by the week, time could be running out on Black and his roster spot could be in jeopardy.

3. RB LaDainian Tomlinson - The Chiefs can't get caught up in worrying about Philip Rivers. They have to focus on Tomlinson. They've had success against him in the past when they continue to hit him every time he touches the ball. If the Chiefs can do that, he'll most likely wilt again. If not…well let's not go down that road right now. Let's have a little faith. The game could be decided in the fourth quarter by how much LT has left in the tank.

4. FB Kris Wilson - It took a while, but he's finally getting a chance to be a starter. Granted, it's not at tight end, but putting Wilson in the backfield was the plan all along. With Ronnie Cruz on the shelf for the season, the former University of Pittsburgh standout can bring a new dimension to this offense with his receiving skills. If he can pick up blitz or stop Merriman after he beats Black remains to be seen.

5. LB Derrick Johnson - He has to be more aggressive than he was last week in Pittsburgh. After brilliant games against the 49ers and Cardinals, he never got on track against the Steelers. It's clear to me that this defense is far more effective and productive when DJ is making plays all over the field. He needs to make more of them if the Chiefs are going to win on Sunday. As he goes, so might the defense.

Nick's Prediction:
Chargers 23, Chiefs 17 Top Stories