Packers Are Healthier, Rested & Simply Better Than Chargers

This is one of those games that looked like a loss when the schedule came out. But here we are, seven weeks in and the Pack is nearly a touchdown favorite in San Diego. The Chargers haven't been this big a home dog in eight years.

One reason, of course is the way the Packers are playing: the offense is like a Beethoven symphony and the defense makes big plays in the red zone and is a turnover machine. Another reason is the recent play of the Chargers: Philip Rivers is playing like Doc Rivers. The NFL leader in passer rating the past three years is 19th this season and looks like a different guy, despite a much healthier cast of offensive weapons than he had a year ago.

Tack on the fact that a scheduling quirk gives the Pack a big advantage, despite making the cross-country trip to lovely San Diego. With 14 days to prepare, the team has had extra time to scout and heal up, while the Chargers are coming off a short week having played in Kansas City on Monday night.

Normally I would fear facing a team coming home after two gut-wrenching road losses. They gave up a big lead against the Jets and then provided a Halloween treat for the Chiefs with a late game meltdown. But the Chargers come home a wounded team. Here are the guys who did not participate in Thursday's practice: G Kris Dielman (out-concussion), LB Shaun Phillips, RB Ryan Matthews, WR Malcolm Floyd, DE Luis Castillo (probably done for the season), LB Na'il Diggs (remember him?), RB Curtis Brinkley and TE Antonio Gates. The last one is a head scratcher. It's not reported to be injury related, so we'll see what's up there.

Meanwhile, the Pack has not been healthier since opening day. Chad Clifton and Mike Neal are out, but everyone else is available, including corner Sam Shields and linebacker Frank Zombo. The aches and pains that have been bothering Tramon Williams, Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson have benefited from the week off.

So now you look at the game when the Packers have the ball. Aaron Rodgers is the runaway leader for MVP at the halfway point, putting up historically good passer rating numbers. He's now won three straight NFC offensive player of the month awards, dating back to last December. He's facing a Charger defense without its best lineman (Castillo) and linebacker (Shaun Phillips). Rookie Corey Liuget has stepped in for Castillo to mixed results. And without Phillips, their leading pass rusher, the team has just 10 sacks this season, good for 29th in the league. Marshall Newhouse should have an easier time this game.

Defensively, the Pack will be challenged. They would certainly catch a break if Matthews and Floyd miss the game. RB Mike Tolbert is expected to return from a hamstring injury that caused him to miss Monday's game. But with both Matthews and Brinkley likely out, he may be forced into workhorse duty which may be more than he can handle. Expect Rivers to air it out 40 times or more. With Gates and Jacksson, he has two big targets with exceptional talent. He'll also dump it to Tolbert, whose seen as a power, short yardage guy, but has decent receiving skills.

This is a proud team that knows this can be a season-defining came for them. Win and they're 5-3 and feeling good. Lose and the finger pointing will begin, answering questions about yet another sluggish start for a veteran team.

Too bad for them that they are facing a team that's playing better than anyone else. They can't rush the passer and they're very weak at cornerback. Quentin Jammer is slowing down and they benched Antoine Cason last week in favor of rookie Marcus Gilchrist, who got torched by Matt Cassell. Marcus, meet Aaron and his friends Greg, Jordy, James, Donald and Randall.

The Packers are catching the Chargers at a great time and have too many weapons and are rested and ready to begin a four game stretch that includes a Monday and Thursday game. Did I mention that the Pack is 5-0 lifetime in San Diego?

Pack 31 San Diego 21

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