QB Drew Brees (Andy Lyons/Getty)
Sunday's showdown with the Saints will swing San Diego's season one way or another. With a win, the Chargers head into the bye week with a 4-4 record and a home game against the listless Kansas City Chiefs on deck. With a loss, the Bolts enter the month of November two games under .500 and 1.5 games behind the Broncos.
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
SURFACE: Sportexe Momentum
TV: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms)
SERIES: 10th regular-season meeting. The Chargers lead the series, 7-2, and have won four of the last five meetings. This is the first time the Chargers and Saints have played a regular-season game outside of America. More than 81,000 fans are expected for this International Series game at London's Wembley Stadium.
PREDICTION: Chargers 33-30
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Chargers: The Saints haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher this year and Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson has a combined 150 rushing yards the past three games. That said, San Diego needs to work the clock a bit to protect its defense, which will be under fire all game. The good news is TE Antonio Gates appears to be as healthy as he has been all season. The Saints allow 222.4 passing yards per game, and the Chargers have plenty of weapons to compete in a shootout.
Saints: The Saints' offense will change a bit without injured RB Reggie Bush. Backups Aaron Stecker and Pierre Thomas will get more snaps, but expect more of the power running game led by Deuce McAllister. None of the three possesses Bush's dynamic presence in the passing game, which should lead to more balls for WR Marques Colston and TE Jeremy Shockey in their second games back from injury. QB Drew Brees will create plenty of fireworks against the league's lowest-rated pass defense allowing 254.6 yards per game.
Chargers: WR Chris Chambers (ankle) and OLB Jyles Tucker (hamstring) have been limited in practice and are uncertain.
Saints: Bush (knee surgery) is out 2-4 weeks; DT Sedrick Ellis (knee) has a chance to play after missing three games; C Jonathan Goodwin (knee) is uncertain.
FAST FACTS: The game will be played in London's Wembley Stadium as part of the NFL's International Series. ... The Chargers will travel 15,771 air miles in October. ... Saints coach Sean Payton is 1-for-7 on replay challenge's this season.
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson (toe) went through the workout and is a go for Sunday. But it's worth watching how the toe holds up during the game. If it becomes fatigued, it could mean more carries for Darren Sproles.
--CB Antonio Cromartie (hip) wasn't able to practice. That hip has been a season-long ailment, and if he's not 100 percent against the Saints' pass-happy attack, it could be a real drawback for the Chargers.
--WR Chris Chambers (ankle) was limited in his work and the team no longer feels as optimistic as earlier in the week that he will play Sunday; he's missed the past two games. If he can't go -- and even if he does -- it means more playing time for Malcom Floyd.
--OLB Jyles Tucker (hamstring) continues to work and appears to be ready for Sunday. He's been out the last three games and the Chargers are in dire need of a pass rush against QB Drew Brees.
--WR Buster Davis (groin) didn't work and won't play on Sunday. No big loss as he could have been a healthy inactive if Chris Chambers goes.
--RB Reggie Bush won't play against the San Diego Chargers in London on Sunday and is out from two-to-four weeks after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Monday.
--C Jonathan Goodwin did not practice again Thursday because of the left knee injury he sustained last Sunday. His availability for the Chargers game is unknown.
--DT Brian Young, who worked on a limited basis Wednesday with knee and foot problems, did not participate in Thursday's practice.
--TE Jeremy Shockey was limited on Thursday after being held out of Wednesday's workout with a sports hernia injury.
--RDE Will Smith returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday's session with a slightly strained abdominal muscle.
--RG Jahri Evans, who did not practice on Wednesday because of an ankle injury, worked fully Thursday.
--LCB Mike McKenzie was back at practice Thursday after resting his surgically repaired right knee on Wednesday.
--DT Sedrick Ellis, who has missed three games after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Oct. 3, is expected to play against the Chargers.
--LG Jamar Nesbit, who has missed the last four games because of an NFL suspension, will likely be activated before Sunday's game.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The focus is on the Saints for the Chargers Sunday in London. That said, there is an extra level of concentration in facing old teammate Drew Brees.
The splitting of Brees and the Chargers opened the way for Philip Rivers to lead the Chargers to two playoff appearances the past two seasons.
But Brees was extremely popular among the Chargers, which gives the game an additional boost.
Outside linebacker Shaun Phillips is looking forward to saying hello in his own way -- with a big hit.
"Yes, I've been joking about it all week," said Phillips, who leads the Chargers with 3.5 sacks. "Maybe I'll give them a little locker-room material, nothing too serious. Drew is a friend of mine. I'm pretty sure if I get a chance to take a shot on him, I'm going to take it.
"I'm going to make a smart comment to him or a joke with him. It's all out of respect for him. I would never disrespect Drew, but my job is too hit him as much as possible and as hard as possible."
The Chargers need to hit and run home with a win and a 4-4 mark. That would put them back at .500 -- again -- and heading into their bye week on a positive note.
But the Chargers, ranked dead last in defending the pass, will have their hands full slowing down the NFL's top-rated offense -- no matter how well they know and respect Brees.
No one is more aware of that than Phillips, as he also played with Brees at Purdue.
"Well, I had the chance to play with Drew for two years then I came to the Chargers and played with him two years," Phillips said. "He's a very accurate quarterback.
"What makes him so good is his work ethic. Drew is one of those guys. He's a film guy and a locker-room guy. He knows where he's going with the ball before the ball's even snapped. He already knows. He reads your defense. He looks off defenders. He's definitely one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL right know."
If the Chargers are to apply some pressure, Phillips said they will have to chase Brees and not count on him staying in one place.
"He also can move around a bit," he said. "He's not a stiff guy that wants to stand in the pocket. He's definitely a mobile guy. Like I said, he's an all-around guy. It's going to be fun to play against him."
And even more fun to beat him.
It would be easy for Drew Brees to make a big deal about playing his former team when he and the Saints go against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday in London's Wembley Stadium.
But that's not what the classy Brees is about. Despite being discarded by the Chargers after the 2005 season, he did what he's done since signing with the Saints in 2006 -- taking the high road -- heading into the reunion with many of his former teammates.
"Well, I mean, it's something I've been waiting for since two years ago ... so here it is," said Brees, who was replaced in San Diego by Philip Rivers. "I'm not going to try to blow it up and make it any bigger than it already is.
"For us, it's going to (be) a much-needed game no matter if we're playing the Chargers or anybody else," he added. "But just the fact that it's the old team, and I know a lot of those guys, it's just kind of added incentive."
The incentive would be to beat the Chargers any way he can. But having a solid passing day at the same time wouldn't be a bad way to end a week-long stay in England.
It would also be a good way to thank the Chargers for letting him go, which allowed him to wind up with Sean Payton and the Saints. Brees has thrown for more yards than any other NFL quarterback since the start of the 2006 season (11,065) and 66 touchdowns, so the deal has certainly worked out.
"This has been a perfect situation, not only with Sean and the offense, but with Mr. (Tom) Benson and the organization and the city," Brees said. "I mean, every way you look at it -- the team, the type of guys we have -- I have never been part of a tighter-knit group where everybody cares about each other so much."
The best part about it, Brees said, was that things worked out well for him and Rivers, who has thrown for 8,237 yards and 59 touchdowns since taking over as the Chargers' starter.
"You know, here's the thing: It worked out and it worked out the way it was supposed to work out for everybody," Brees said. "I mean, I wouldn't trade it for the world. I belong here, obviously he (Rivers) belongs there. He's doing a great job and I feel like we're doing a great job here. So it has worked out for everybody."