QB Philip Rivers (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
The Chargers, despite a 3-5 record, may not be the most desperate team on the field this Sunday. The Chiefs come in at 1-7 and -- crazy as it sounds -- are still talking playoffs in the underwhelming AFC West. Samantha Fillerup profiles the five Bolts responsible for setting the tone in this must-win game.
1. QB Philip Rivers would be a viable MVP candidate were it not for San Diego's dismal 3-5 record. Rivers leads the NFL in several statistical categories, including touchdowns (19) and passer rating (107.8). However, Rivers has helped seal San Diego's fate in each of its last two losses, throwing costly fourth-quarter interceptions against the Buffalo Bills and New Orleans Saints.
Rivers will look to author a complete game against a Kansas City Chiefs defense that ranks No. 31 in the league, hemorrhaging 407 yards per game. Rivers' biggest task will be avoiding red-hot rookie CB Brandon Flowers (two interceptions), who will look to make the Chargers pay for passing on him during the draft.
2. TE Brandon Manumaleuna has spent much of his time as a lead blocker as of late, due to FB Mike Tolbert's struggles at the point of attack. When Manumaleuna is not clearing holes for LaDainian Tomlinson, he acts as Rivers' personal bodyguard to fend off the blitzers in obvious passing situations.
The Chiefs' run defense is lackluster at best, allowing a league-high 182.4 yards per game. Manumaleuna is charged with carving lanes for LT, hopefully springing him to his second consecutive 100-yard rushing game. Protecting Rivers should be easier than usual this week, as the Chiefs have the fewest sacks in the NFL (four).
3. LB Jyles Tucker (three sacks) suffered a hamstring injury in Week 4 against the Oakland Raiders and is healthy for the first time since. Playing at full throttle, Tucker will work to rejuvenate a nonexistent pass rush that has not recorded a sack in nine straight quarters.
The Kansas City offensive line could be in for a long day, especially if the Chiefs are forced to play from behind. Kansas City has allowed its three QBs to be sacked 23 times this season, seventh-most in the NFL, for a loss of 248 yards. Tucker will spend most of the game matched up with rookie LT Branden Albert, although he will take some shots against former Charger Damion McIntosh on the other side.
4. CB Antonio Cromartie has been a disappointment this year with damaging penalties and inconsistent play. Having rested his hip during the bye week, he anticipates a healthier and more productive second half. New defensive coordinator Ron Rivera must hope that's the case, since Cromartie could intercept a pass in every game the rest of the season and still not top last year's total.
This week, Cromartie will look to take advantage of QB Tyler Thigpen, who began the season third on the depth chart and has only three career starts under his belt. On the season, Thigpen has hit 77 of 151 passes for 836 yards, five touchdowns, four interceptions and a dismal 67.6 rating.
5. WR Kassim Osgood plays a vital role on special teams, having posted eight tackles this season, and will be tasked with keeping the Chiefs return men in check. San Diego is expected to handily conquer the Chiefs and cannot afford to give up any big plays on special teams.
The Chiefs come to San Diego looking to manufacture a big play in the return game. Kick returner Dantrell Savage has 21 returns for 530 yards (25.2 avg.) and punt returner B.J. Sams has seven returns for 58 yards (8.3 avg.).