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Week 18 Picks: Wild Card Weekend, Part IV

Chargers vs. Titans
Do Stretch Runs Define Teams?

Do you like the way Tennessee defaulted into the playoffs? Loss at home to Jacksonville, loss at Denver, loss at Cincinnati, 8-point win against Houston, loss against San Diego, 9-point win at Kansas City, 4-point win against the Jets, and a 6-point win against Indy's JV. Four-and-four with wins against bad teams and second-stringers; four losses, two against mediocre teams.

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Tennessee Titans (10-6) @ San Diego Chargers (11-5)
Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.
January 6, 4:30 p.m.

Of course that loss to San Diego stands out a bit doesn't it? Just a month ago, on Dec. 9, the Titans blew a 17-3 lead in the 4th quarter and gave up an easy touchdown in overtime in front of the home crowd. It was a brutally physical game in which both starting quarterbacks and several other players were injured.

(Click "Read More" to read the rest, vote in the poll and make your prediction.)

Tennessee can draw some positives out of that game. The held the Chargers all but scoreless for three quarters. They picked off San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers twice and backup Billy Volek once before the comeback. They were able to run the ball about as effectively as the Chargers. But in the end, losing an important game in that manner at home .. not good.

San Diego has won six straight to finish the season and seven of their last eight, starting with that 23-21 win over Indy in that miserable weather. Their only loss was the following week by 7 at Jacksonville. Most of the later opponents were pretty weak -- Baltimore, KC, Detroit, Denver, Oakland -- but the Chargers beat them all handlily, mostly with defense and LaDanian Tomlinson.

Like most of the playoff teams, San Diego was excellent at home (7-1), their only loss a 30-16 defeated to Kansas City. It was their third straight loss (the first was against New England), but the Chargers were solid the rest of the season. Tennessee was 5-3 on the road.

The Titans were 5th in the league in rushing offense, but that was more a function as their lack of a passing game. LenDale White led the team with 1,110 yards, but just 3.7 yards per carry. Chris Brown is the backup with 462 yards and a 4.5 average. Quarterback Vince Young is third on the team with 395 yards and a 4.2 average.

San Diego is just 16th in the league in rushing defense, allowing 107.0 yards per game and 4.1 per carry. The Chargers aren't that much better in pass defense, ranked 14th with 213.2 yards per game allowed. But they epitomize bend-don't-break this season. San Diego is fifth in points allowed with 17.8 points per game. A large part of that is San Diego's league-dominating 48 takeaways (30 interceptions, 18 fumbles).

The latter is bad news for Tennessee as Young is among the league leaders in throwing interceptions (17), especially considering how infrequently he passes (382 attempts).

Rivers isn't much better with 15 interceptions on 460 attempts.

Tennessee is among tops in the AFC in both giveaways (34 total) and takeways (also 34). But enough about them.

Like their defense, the Chargers are just 21st in offensive yards per game, but they are 5th in scoring. Again, that plus-24 turnover ration plays a huge role. You don't accumulate a lot of yards when you're always on a short field.

Otherwise, San Diego's offense is much like Tennessee's: pretty poor passing, excellent rushing. The big difference is that the Chargers' quarterback isn't running the ball as much.

One other thing that sets San Diego's offense apart from most others: The leading receiver is a tight end (Antonio Gates) and second is the star running back. Vincent Jackson has the most receptions of any wideout with just 41. If Tennessee concentrates on Gates and Tomlinson, the game could get interesting.

Young is listed as questionable on Tennessee's injury report. He pulled a quadricep last week against Indy. White is also listed as questionable with a knee injury. Just as important, maybe more, is the calf injury to center Kevin Mawae, who is listed as doubtful. Defensive leader tackle Albert Haynesworth, a player on whom the Titans absolutely depend, is listed as probably with a strained hamstring.

San Diego is mostly healthy with a couple backups having the biggest problems. The only key player listed is place kicker Nate Kaeding, who has a lower leg injury. That could be key if it's a close game.

Prediction: Chargers, 24-14.