2008 AFC Wildcard Game: Tennessee Titans vs. San Diego Chargers Preview and Pick

AFC Wild Card Game: Tennessee Titans (10-6) +9.5, 39.5 O/U at San Diego Chargers (11-5) -9.5, 4.30pm EST Sunday
by The Crazy Snake of Predictem.com

I have one of those uneasy feelings that I sometimes get when things just look too obvious and something in the back of my mind won’t quit its foreboding mantra. All logic tends to suggest this is a formality first week for the Chargers and as the AFC 3rd seed we would expect them to account for the Titans in fairly comfortable fashion, right?

On the surface all the evidence seems to support that conclusion. The Chargers have all the genuine game breakers. L.T., the Antonio duet and Shawne Merriman. The Titans have Albert Haynesworth but he has struggled since his hamstring injury and Vince Young has a quadriceps strain which kept him out of most of the second half of the Titans’ 16-10 victory over the second-string Colts. On the plus side, he isn’t exactly the most dominant of passing quarterbacks anyway and if I was San Diego I would prefer to front against him than his likely replacement, the reliable but immobile veteran, Kerry Collins. At least you can plan for Young by running a quarterback spying defense. Sure, you need an athletic linebacker to achieve that, but San Diego is certainly not lacking in that department. Defending a genuine passing attack, which Young does not bring to this offense is potentially more problematic for SD. Young has only thrown 9 touchdowns this season and that level of production just won’t get it done in the post season. San Diego has offensive weapons and if they find effectiveness in those weapons Tennessee is going to need an awful lot of defensive points.

Adding to Tennessee’s woes will be the absence of Young’s favorite target, tight end Bo Scaife, who ended his season against the Colts with internal bleeding post game that hospitalized him the day after. It becomes increasingly difficult to see how this team can score enough points to remain competitive, but this is the post season and as we all know, anything goes. These teams combined for a nail-biting 23-17 Chargers overtime victory at their last meeting, and though that was in Tennessee and this game will be in San Diego, home field hasn’t seemed to count for much in the playoffs in recent seasons, especially in the Wildcard round.

Both teams come into the playoffs with winning form, particularly the Chargers who have won 6 in a row. Tennessee arrested a 3 game skid through mid season by winning 4 of their last 5 games, their only loss the aforementioned 23-17 overtime cliffhanger. Nonetheless, I have a strong feeling that both of those closing records will prove to be counterfeit come the real business. San Diego took all before them last season but went out at their earliest opportunity in the playoffs and would loathe even the thought of repeating that here. The Chargers haven’t won a post season game for a very long time. At least Tennessee will take Kerry Collins into the game, the quarterback that led the Giants to the Superbowl in the 2000 season, a game they ultimately lost to the Ravens. That may count for something with two teams devoid of recent post season success.

I am reluctant to make a case for either team in this one. On the balance of evidence it would seem the Chargers hold all the cards and they should win pretty easily. To be honest, if I was sure Young was a certain starter for the Titans I would be more inclined to push for the Chargers. I am definitely not a big fan of Vince and his relative value to this team going forward. But with the likelihood of Kerry Collins being the starter I feel the Titans’ chances improve somewhat. His experience at this end of the season will be crucial. Titan running back, LenDale White doesn’t present a great challenge for the San Diego defense and forcing Tennessee to the air may actually help their cause. At least it will force them to be more prolific and big play conscious. They have had a tendency to be a little too defensively focused. It is extremely doubtful they can remain that way and curtail the Charger scoring enough to win.

The regular season game was very spiteful and hard-hitting. This game is a grudge match and should be one of the more viewed games this weekend. Not because of the prolific scoring or spectacular aerial acrobatics but most likely because of the late hits and cheap shots that should see this one erupt into war. As the last game on the Wildcard roster it had to have a decent hook and history has conspired to help to that end.

The Snake’s Bite: While this game doesn’t offer the greatest value, when forced into a pick I am actually going to lean with the Titans here. I suspect Collins will start and I think that improves their chances of keeping this tight. Motivation for the Titans is at an all-time high here and teams lower on talent but high on motivation are always dangerous. Take the 9.5 point start with the Titans to hold this close. They definitely have a defense capable of doing its part.