1. Of sound mind and body. QB Trent Edwards used the bye week to recover from a concussion and is ready to get back into the game. He was sharp in the first four games, completing more than 66 percent of his passes. He's also taken some big hits because of leaky protection. That must change if Edwards is going to stay healthy. The good news for the Bills is they won't have to deal with pass-rushing phenom Shawne Merriman, who had season-ending knee surgery. The Chargers' defense is not the same without Merriman, but OLB Shaun Phillips leads a pass rush that has 17 sacks, fifth-best in the NFL.
2. Rivers runs deep. Few quarterbacks are playing better than San Diego's Philip Rivers, the NFL's leader in passer rating. His success is due in part to his offensive line, which has allowed just eight sacks. Rivers has used the good protection to hit on some big plays. He has 23 completions of 20-plus yards, including an NFLhigh nine pass plays over 40 yards. Even ifWRChris Chambers does not play, the Chargers have a deep receiving corps headed by TE Antonio Gates andWRVincent Jackson, who at 6-foot-5 can be a matchup problem. Rivers' weapons should be disconcerting for a Bills secondary that won't have CB Terrence McGee (sprained knee) for a second straight game.
3. Chargers have Evans cornered. One of the key matchups in this game will be Bills big-play WR Lee Evans against Chargers CBs Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer. Cromartie, who led the NFL in interceptions last season, is an athletic ballhawk with the speed to run with most receivers. Jammer is more physical and likes to muscle receivers. Despite their presence, the Chargers have given up the second-most passing yards in the league. Evans' 27-yard average on 16 catches is the second-best among starting NFL receivers, so the Bills will take their shots downfield. But WRs Josh Reed, James Hardy and Roscoe Parrish could do the most damage running short and intermediate routes over the middle, an area in which the Chargers have been vulnerable.
4. Manonthe run. Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson, right, has shown only flashes of his all-world form because of a dislocated right big toe and hobbled offensive line, which finally has all five starters on the field together. Despite LT's health, the Bills must limit his effectiveness if they're going to slow the Chargers' offense. Bills RB Marshawn Lynch has had similar struggles. He's averaging only 3.5 yards per carry and his 63.8 yards per contest is the fourth-lowest total among backs with 90 or more carries. He runs behind the heaviest offensive line in the league, but the front five aren't controlling the line of scrimmage. That will be a challenge against the Chargers' big, physical front seven.
5. Little big man. San Diego's Darren Sproles is only 5-6, but he could loom large in this game because of his return ability. He averages 30.4 yards on kickoffs, taking one back 103 yards for a touchdown. It will be interesting to see if the Bills kick to him given their struggles in coverage. Leodis McKelvin could have a big game returning kickoffs (25.6-yard average) because the Chargers' coverage has trouble in that area.
Prediction: Buffalo, 9-4 at home after a bye, views this game as its best chance to prove it is a legit contender. But San Diego should win if its play matches its superior overall talent. Chargers, 24-20.