KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural grass
TV: CBS, Gus Johnson, Steve Tasker
PREDICTION: Chargers 29-13
KEYS TO THE GAME: Chiefs QB Matt Cassel had an appendectomy on Wednesday and would be replaced by Brodie Croyle if he can't play. While Kansas City's offense is based off the league's No. 1 ground game, Cassel has taken advantage of single coverage downfield. By contrast, Croyle hasn't taken a snap all season and the Chargers can be more aggressive using their safeties in run support if he's taking the snaps.
With San Diego's hit-and-miss ground game, QB Philip Rivers continues to lead the league's second-ranked passing game despite continued injuries to his top receivers. He has been sacked six times the past two weeks and must be aware of where OLB Tamba Hali lines up pre-snap.
FAST FACTS: The Chiefs seek their first four-game winning streak since 2004. ... Rivers has a 105.0 passer rating at home this season.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Brodie Croyle has been the Chiefs' No. 3 quarterback, the backup, the starter, the quarterback of the future, the injury-prone no longer quarterback of the future, the backup and this week, the emergency starter.
In six years in the league, Croyle has played about every role possible for a quarterback. As the Chiefs get ready to play San Diego in a game for control of the AFC West, it appears they will do it without starting quarterback Matt Cassel. An appendectomy on Dec. 7 should sideline Cassel, pushing Croyle into the starting lineup for the 10th time in his career.
"I'm going to prepare like I always do and if my number is called I have to be ready," Croyle said. "It's no different than any other week."
Over the years, there have been a lot of different situations that Croyle's dealt with since being a third-round draft choice out of Alabama. He was going to be the guy to replace Trent Green when he was drafted in 2006. Croyle shared the job with Damon Huard and then fell into the backup role when the Chiefs traded for Matt Cassel in 2009.
Injuries have been his problem, dating back to his time with the Crimson Tide. With the Chiefs, it's been back, hand, shoulder and knee. In five seasons he's played in 16 games, and made just nine starts. The last time he opened a game was the 2009 season opener in Baltimore, when Cassel was dealing with a knee injury.
In that game, Croyle completed 16 of 24 passes for 177 yards and two touchdown passes. He posted a career high passer rating of 116.1.
Since then, Croyle has watched Cassel start 27 consecutive games. In a typical practice week where Cassel is healthy, Croyle said he would average between 10 and 12 plays with the first-team offense over the week.
"You have to prepare for that moment, you never know when it is coming, so you always have to be mentally ready to go," said Croyle. "Getting reps, getting no reps, as the backup you have to be ready to go in both situations."
How long Cassel's recuperation will keep him out of the starting lineup is unknown. For Croyle, that really doesn't matter; it's just another opportunity to get back on the field.
"You don't reach the NFL without the desire to play," said Croyle. "That's never changed for me. I want to play, but you've also got to deal with whatever the game throws in front of you."
Just maybe the Chargers get their starting wide receivers back on Sunday in their do-or-die game against the visiting Chiefs.
Remember all those lineups with Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd penciled in as the starters?
But Jackson held out, got suspended and then got hurt. Floyd has been in and out of the line with a bum hamstring.
In Indianapolis on Nov. 28, the pair were both active, but it lasted three snaps before Jackson suffered a calf injury.
But Jackson was back practicing Wednesday, albeit in a limited basis. It was the first time Jackson worked since the Colts game. And Floyd continues to practice as he gingerly brings his tender hamstring to the finish line.
If those two are back, that's reassuring for quarterback Philip Rivers. He's already had to complete passes to 16 different receivers as the unit has been in flux.
Amazingly, Jackson isn't among those 16 with a completion.
That could change Sunday. Either way, having Floyd and Jackson active gives Rivers some reliable targets to try and find.
The news isn't as good on Legedu Naanee after he aggravated his balky hamstring last Sunday. He won't go against the Chiefs, which makes the availability of Floyd and Jackson more critical.
--QB Matt Cassel's recuperation time from an appendectomy is unknown but in the last decade the Chiefs had two players who dealt with the removal of their appendix. Recuperation for C Casey Wiegmann in 2001 and WR Marc Boerigter in 2002 both took three to four weeks.
--RB Thomas Jones has been telling his younger teammates the secret to handling the pressure of December football with a spot in the playoffs on the line. "It's still football, the X's and O's, executing the plays, executing the game plan, eliminating mistakes," Jones said." At this time of the year those are the things that matter."
--QB Tyler Palko was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster because of Matt Cassel's appendectomy after spending 13 weeks on the practice squad. Palko has spent time with New Orleans, Arizona and Pittsburgh before signing with the Chiefs in March 2010. He's not played a regular-season game since signing with the Saints in 2007 as an undrafted rookie.
--C Casey Wiegmann's remarkable streak continues to grow - he's now topped the 9,900 mark for consecutive plays, 156 straight games, dating back to the 2001 season. Without injury, Wiegmann will pass the 10,000 consecutive plays mark sometime in the Chiefs' home game against Tennessee on Dec. 26.
--WR Legedu Naanee (hamstring) didn't practice again Thursday and won't play this week.
--TE Antonio Gates (foot) didn't practice, which has been his normal week. Gates will go Sunday; how much he is compromised isn't really known until Sunday.
--WR Patrick Crayton (wrist) didn't practice and will not play this week.
--ILB Stephen Cooper (knee) was able to go on a limited basis. It's possible Cooper and Brandon Siler will divide the duties Sunday; both are nursing injuries.
--RG Louis Vasquez (neck) continues to practice on a limited basis, but he should be able to play Sunday.
--RB Darren Sproles (head) was a limited participant and signs seem to point to him being available Sunday.
--ILB Brandon Siler (rib) didn't work but will likely go Sunday. The Chargers are getting thin at the inside spot.
--DT Antonio Garay (ankle) was a full participant and will start Sunday.
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