San Diego Chargers (2-4) at Atlanta Falcons (4-2)
SERIES HISTORY: 10th regular-season meeting. The Falcons lead the series 8-1. The Falcons won the last meeting 27-3 on Sept. 23, 2012 in San Diego. They also won the last meeting in Atlanta, 21-20, on Oct. 17, 2004.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Chargers have found themselves a convenient punchline for the creative ways in which they have found to lose football games through the first six weeks of the season. The truth is, they are talented enough to compete with any team in the league, but have just enough holes compounded by key injuries that make it difficult to hold up for four quarters.
Atlanta leads the league in scoring at 33.2 points per game despite playing just two home games - the last a 48-33 trouncing of reigning NFC champion Carolina. Chargers QB Philip Rivers has done a commendable job of throwing only three interceptions behind a mediocre offensive line and without WR Keenan Allen and RB Danny Woodhead. The ground game is virtually a one-man show with Melvin Gordon, who is averaging a meager 3.4 yards per carry and leaving Rivers constantly backed into third-and-long.
The good news for Rivers is the Falcons are still in search of a consistent pass rush with 11 sacks on the season. Question is, can Rivers continue to put points on the board on the road in a largely one-dimensional offense?
That's because Falcons QB Matt Ryan has a wealth of options at his disposal. That includes RBs Devonte Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who are duel threats out of the backfield and help keep defenses off-balance as they pick their poison with the receiving corps headed by Julio Jones. Ryan is getting hit with regularity, and roughing up Ryan while creating a big advantage in the turnover margin is likely San Diego's best bet to another dramatic finish.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Chargers TE Hunter Henry vs. Falcons secondary. It's almost blasphemous to mention any San Diego tight end before Antonio Gates, but he is serving as a commendable mentor to Henry, who is the first rookie tight end to score touchdowns in three consecutive weeks since Jimmy Graham did it in 2010. Ironically, the Falcons gave up six receptions for 89 yards to Graham in Seattle just last week.
--Falcons RT Ryan Schraeder vs. Chargers DE Joey Bosa. It hasn't taken long for Bosa to emerge at the top of the depth chart after getting into football shape following his protracted holdout. He has six tackles and a pair of sacks through two games and will make his second career start. Schraeder is a former undrafted rookie out of Valdosta State in 2013 who has quietly emerged as a solid veteran, and he'll engage in an entertaining battle with the third overall pick in last spring's draft.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Falcons CB Robert Alford. Coach Dan Quinn said there is "not a change at this point," but that is hardly a rousing endorsement. Quinn loves Alford's athleticism, but the right cornerback opposite Desmond Trufant has also racked up a team-high eight penalties for 110 yards, including six that have resulted in first downs as opponents continue to target him.
INJURY REPORT: San Diego -- Out: S Jahleel Addae (collarbone), LB Jeremiah Attaochu (ankle), CB Brandon Flowers (concussion). Questionable: WR Travis Benjamin (knee). Atlanta -- Out: WR Taylor Gabriel (concussion), CB C.J. Goodwin (hamstring).
FAST FACTS: The Chargers are 1-11 in their past 12 road games. ... The Falcons are in first in the NFL in yards per game (441.5), yards per play (6.93), passing yards per play (9.41) and points per game (33.2). ... The Chargers have held their past six opponents to under 93 yards rushing.
PREDICTION: The cards are stacked heavily against a Chargers team that does not play well on the road and is minus several key players on both sides of the ball. It's difficult to see the defense getting off the field, or Rivers going score-for-score against Ryan on the road without eventually succumbing to turnovers that result in Atlanta running out the clock for the majority of the fourth quarter.
OUR PICK: Falcons, 41-27.