SI.com's Don Banks had a veteran AFC insider assess the Chargers-Colts matchup.
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The Chargers weren't real impressive in their win last week. You would think in a playoff game at home, against a Tennessee team that had some injuries, San Diego would have looked better. The Chargers got it done in the second half, but they really had to work for it. And now with tight end Antonio Gates having a hurt toe, that's going to be a huge impediment to the Chargers giving the Colts a lot of trouble.
The Chargers are going to have to score big to win this game. Without Gates, San Diego would like to go in there and run the football and keep it in LaDainianTomlinson's hands. Because if you can't control the clock against the Colts, you know they're going to put up a big number. But if the Chargers fall behind, now you've got to lay more of the game on quarterback PhilipRivers' shoulders than you really want to. And I don't know if Rivers is ready to win a game for you that way. He's really been up and down this year, and I don't know if he has the ammunition. Without Gates, this one could get ugly.
The Chargers probably do come in with confidence from having beaten the Colts earlier this season. They see the same uniforms and feel good about their chances. But unless the Colts kick coverage units do the same thing they did that game, letting San Diego's Darren Sproles have two big returns, it'll be a very different game. Peyton Manning has all his weapons back, the Colts are healthier across the board, they're rested and ready to go. It's the complete opposite scenario from when they played the first time in Week 10 in San Diego.
I expect to see Indy and New England playing next week. The Jaguars might make it very interesting, and if anybody has a shot at the upset, it's them because they could impose their will on New England physically. But it's tough to see a way for the Chargers to beat the Colts without Gates.
It's bad news for the rest of the AFC, but the Colts are coming together at the perfect time. They've weathered the storm of injuries and that offense is finally going to have receiver Marvin Harrison back from that knee bruise. That offense is already so methodical in how they do things. Their timing, the way they hit their spots, the way Manning delivers the ball. And then on defense, they're healthier than they've been in a long time. They're getting Robert Mathis and Raheem Brock back on the defensive line, and that will make them stronger.
Defensively, the Colts have played well all year. One of the things about their defense is, much like the Patriots, they've got the right players for their scheme. They move their front a lot, and run a lot stunts at you during a game. It's like trying to hit a moving target. They just don't stand there in front of you and try to take you on. They're always moving and looping, and that makes it difficult to play them.
But the real key to the Colts defense is how well Bob Sanders is playing. That guy makes the plays. Even when you've got them all blocked or at least pushed off to one side, he comes up and stuffs you. He's kind of their make-up guy for them. He's short, but he's fast and he can cover a lot of ground, both against the run and the pass. The other guy who's playing really well this season is linebacker Gary Brackett. He's not a real tall guy either, but he finds the ball.