San Diego Chargers (12-2) at Seattle Seahawks (8-6)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: CBS, Dick Enberg, Randy Cross
SERIES: 48th meeting with the defending NFC champion Seahawks leading, 25-22. The teams last played in 2002 when the Seahawks prevailed in overtime, giving them five straight wins over the Chargers. Seattle has won 10 of the last 12 meetings between these former AFC West rivals.
2006 RANKINGS: Chargers: offense 5th (3rd rush, 17th pass); defense 7th (6th rush, 11th pass). Seahawks: offense 22nd (16th rush, 20th pass); defense 17th (22nd rush, 16th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Seahawks' offense is struggling to find any rhythm, in large part because the line isn't run- or pass-blocking well. That's a dangerous combination against a Chargers defense that is very stout against the run and then able to abuse opposing quarterbacks in long passing situations. The Seahawks not only need RB Shaun Alexander to get positive yardage on early downs, but QB Matt Hasselbeck must improve his decision making under pressure and his receivers have to stop dropping passes. The Chargers' offense has been rolling thanks to RB LaDainian Tomlinson's historic roll, but San Diego wants to get QB Philip Rivers back on track and confident before the end of the regular season. Seattle has had major issues stopping the run, but if the Seahawks can keep Tomlinson under control they do have quick linebackers who can bring the heat against Rivers.
Chargers: Clinch first-round bye with a win, and home-field advantage if Baltimore also loses. ... Rivers leads the NFL with a 116.9 fourth-quarter passer rating.
Seahawks: Clinch NFC West with a win or a loss by San Francisco. ... Hasselbeck has been sacked more times in 10 games (27) than he was in 16 games last season (24).
--DE Luis Castillo didn't practice Thursday as he is nursing the sprained ankle that cost him four games earlier in the year. He will probably go Sunday. If not, Jacques Cesaire would fill in.
--ILB Randall Godfrey didn't practice Thursday but seems to think he will go Sunday. If not a very capable backup in Stephen Cooper would replace him.
--LB Marques Harris worked after being slowed with a hamstring injury. He should go Sunday, but his game is based on speed, so that might hamper him.
--G Scott Mruczkowski is still down with a knee injury. He didn't practice and he won't play.
--WR Eric Parker is still being bothered by a sore neck and he didn't practice on Thursday. There's a chance he can't go Sunday and if he does, his play could be compromised. Vincent Jackson would get the extra reps if he can't go and Keenan McCardell would handle the punts.
--C Robbie Tobeck missed practice again Thursday. He will not play Sunday.
--WR Darrell Jackson missed practice again Thursday. He remains doubtful on the injury report.
--LG Floyd Womack missed practice again Thursday. He remains questionable on the injury report.
--DT Rocky Bernard practiced for a second consecutive day Thursday. He is expected to start Sunday despite a lingering foot injury.
--DE Robert Pollard practiced Thursday. He has been bothered by a knee injury.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
With Eric Parker ailing, it could mean more action for Jackson, Vincent Jackson. The Chargers' second-year wide receiver is seeing the field more with Parker's neck ailing and Keenan McCardell being in and out of the lineup with his bum calf.
Jackson has proven to be the NFL's highest-scoring team's best deep threat of late, and the present situation shows him getting plenty of action on Sunday in Seattle when the Chargers go for their eighth straight win.
"He's come a long way,'' Philip Rivers said of Jackson, a second-round pick. "But I think we all knew what he could do.''
Others have found out. Especially the last two weeks,when he has come through with big-time catches at critical junctures in the games. His 46-yard snag in the fourth-quarter Sunday set up a Nate Kaeding field goal. It also brought some rare life to a passing game, which was terrible. Against Denver on the previous Sunday, Jackson caught a career-long, 55-yard catch. That, too, led to three points.
Overall, Jackson has 19 catches for 328 yards and three touchdowns. But just as important is Jackson's ability to stretch the field.
Defenses love to gather near the line of scrimmage to counter LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates. By Jackson wiggling deep for an occasional long pass, it helps the two Pro Bowlers.
"He's made very, very steady progress throughout the season,'' coach Marty Schottenheimer said of Jackson. "He has more confidence in himself, we have more confidence in him and the quarterback has more confidence in him. As a result, he's getting more opportunities.
Seattle running back Shaun Alexander wouldn't mind getting less work during the exhibition season. But he also understands why he gets more preseason work than Chargers counterpart LaDainian Tomlinson. "Every player is a little bit different," Alexander said. "He and I are more similar than anyone I have ever been around.
"Both of us don't like to do too much (in preseason) because we like to have an edge. A lot of our game is just reaction, so we need to do a little bit to not be rusty, but at the same time, you don't want to do too much because then you get caught up in just being a robot and you almost cover your own talent."
Alexander carried 22 times for 76 yards during the preseason. Tomlinson had zero carries. "I probably still do too much, but that is probably because of how coach (Mike) Holmgren is about our system," Alexander said. "Our offensive system is just different. Being in the West Coast, it is so much timing. Theirs isn't."
This is the first season Alexander has had to deal with significant injuries. He suffered a broken bone in his foot as early as the season opener. The injury eventually forced him to miss six games. Tomlinson has appeared in 93 of 94 possible regular-season games since entering the league with the Chargers in 2001.
Alexander set the NFL single-season record for touchdowns last season. Tomlinson broke the record this season. Their showdown Sunday has lost a lot of its edge because Alexander and the Seahawks are struggling. But it's still a game both are anticipating.
"I was motivated about this game when the schedule came out," Alexander said. "LaDainian is a good friend of mine and he is a great talent, a great person.
"Our careers are so similar in so many ways. People like that, you get excited to play against. Of course, we won't be on the field at the same time, but it is cool to play against somebody like that."