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BILLS-CHARGERS: IT'S A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME

What a difference a year makes.

When the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers met last season at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the outcome sent the teams in drastically different directions.

The Bills' 27-24 overtime victory sparked a run of five wins over the next six weeks that put them in the playoff chase. The Chargers left Buffalo 0-7 on their way to 1-15.

When the Bills and Chargers meet today at Qualcomm Stadium, they will be in markedly different situations.

The Bills (1-4) are trying to build momentum off their first win of the season, at Jacksonville 10 days ago. A win today could make the Bills a factor in what has become a wide-open AFC East race.

The Chargers (4-2), meanwhile, have become one of the major surprises of the early NFL season. A victory over the Bills would elevate San Diego to legitimate playoff contender status.

But what makes this game the most intriguing of the year for both teams is the wealth of other story lines.

You have the first meeting between quarterbacks Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie. Their stormy relationship divided fans and the Bills' locker room.

Flutie -- who replaced an injured Johnson and drove the Bills into position for the game-winning field goal against the Chargers last year -- is determined to prove to the Bills they were wrong in choosing Johnson.

Johnson is eager to show he deserved the job. Should Johnson come out with a win, it may finally earn him some respect among fans and get him out from under Flutie's still-ominous shadow.

You have San Diego linebackers John Holecek and Sam Rogers, who were released by the Bills in salary cap-cutting moves. There's also defensive end Marcellus Wiley, who joined the Chargers after the Bills decided he was too expensive to re-sign.

Then there is the matter of Bills owner Ralph Wilson and Chargers General Manager John Butler. Wilson fired Butler, clearing the way for him to sign with San Diego. Wilson is still angry with Butler for rejecting offers to stay in Buffalo, and Butler is not too fond of Wilson for trashing him in the media.

But Wilson and Butler won't be able to carry their bitterness onto the field. The players will, though.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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