Indianapolis: Peyton Manning completed 66.8 percent of his passes for 4,002 yards with 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Not bad for a guy coming off two knee surgeries. He has spread the ball around and showed great accuracy, even with opposing defenses in pass coverage almost every down. He has thrown nine interceptions in his last three games against San Diego and must be wary of the Chargers’ secondary.
San Diego: Philip Rivers threw for 4,009 yards with 34 touchdowns, tied for most in the NFL, and only 11 interceptions. He has shown an ability to take advantage of all his receivers and even his running backs out of the backfield. He is prone to occasionally hanging onto the ball too long. He was sacked 25 times, compared to 11 times for Manning.
Indianapolis: The Colts’ running game ranks next to last with an average of 79.6 yards per game. Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes have battled through injuries this season, and the offensive line has been in flux because of injuries. Addai (544 yards) has failed to hit the holes with confidence, and Rhodes (538 yards) doesn’t have the speed to be an elite back.
San Diego: LaDainian Tomlinson, who has been hampered by a groin injury, is still one of the best in the NFL and proved it with 1,110 rushing yards. He aggravated his injury in the final game of the regular season and is listed as questionable for today’s game. If he is close to 100 percent, Tomlinson will look to continue his legacy of making the Colts’ poor-tackling linebackers miss. Backup Darren Sproles is an undersized speedster who slithers through holes.
Indianapolis: Reggie Wayne, who has 82 catches for 1,145 yards and six touchdowns, is particularly dangerous down the left sideline. Marvin Harrison (77 catches) has had the most inconsistent season of his career. Anthony Gonzalez (57 catches) is a promising player, but his production is often dictated by the Colts’ loyalty to Harrison. The Colts’ receivers do get rattled by physical defenders.
San Diego: The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Vincent Jackson is tough to defend because be can muscle his way to jump balls. The Colts’ undersized secondary will have to find a way to double-team him today. Jackson averages 18.6 yards per reception. Chris Chambers (33 catches, 462 yards, five touchdowns) is a prototypical receiver with great hands, though he doesn’t have the breakaway speed he used to have.
Indianapolis: Dallas Clark set franchise records for receptions (77) and receiving yards (848) by a tight end, to go along with his six touchdowns. He become the go-to guy for Manning in short-yardage situations or in the red zone. Gijon Robinson (19 catches, 166 yards) has emerged as a serviceable second tight end.
San Diego: Antonio Gates has great size (6-foot-4, 260 pounds) and can overwhelm defenders. He led the Chargers with 60 receptions in the regular season, along with 704 receiving yards and a team-leading eight touchdown catches. But Gates has been slowed by an ankle injury and is listed as questionable for today’s game. Brandon Manumaleuna is a capable second tight end (15 catches, 127 yards, two touchdowns). He is used mainly as a blocker.
Indianapolis: Despite experiencing a rash of injuries and being inexperienced in places, the Colts’ line improved this past season. Indianapolis gave up only 14 sacks this season. Center Jeff Saturday is one of the best in the NFL, and right tackle Ryan Diem had the best season of his career. Tackle Mike Pollak and backup guard Jamey Richard, who both have ankle injuries, did not travel with the team. Dan Federkeil will start at guard.
San Diego: The Chargers have an almost equally effective offensive line, led by left tackle Marcus McNeill. Center Nick Hardwick is also underrated, as is left tackle Kris Dielman. Rivers is left exposed sometimes – he was sacked 25 times.
Indianapolis: Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, who are both speedy and agile, combined for 22 sacks this season. Raheem Brock, who plays both on the end and inside, is a capable third option who plays about 50 percent of the downs. But the Colts’ line is susceptible to giving up runs down the middle.
San Diego: Jamal Williams, a 348-pound nose tackle, anchors the 3-4 defense. Because of him, it’s no easy task to run up the middle against the Chargers. The Chargers have a lot of speed at the end positions, with Luis Castillo (39 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks) and Igor Olshansky (28 tackles, two sacks).
Indianapolis: The Colts were able to overcome the loss of Gary Brackett (broken leg) with a talented, if inexperienced, group. Clint Session, who has established himself as a hard tackler, will remain on the strong side. Freddy Keiaho will slide from weak side to Brackett’s inside position. This puts the pressure on the inexperienced Tyjuan Hagler.
San Diego: When the Chargers lost linebacker Shawne Merriman to a knee injury after one game, they lost the most formidable player in their defense. The pressure immediately fell to Shaun Phillips, and he’s responded, getting 7 1/2 sacks and helping a solid run defense. Stephen Cooper is a player to watch in the middle. Matt Wilhelm is also capable, but the linebackers can be exposed with short passes over the middle.
Indianapolis: Safety Bob Sanders is expected to play despite his knee injury. That will help Indianapolis buckle down against the run. Against the pass, the Colts have been solid, allowing only six touchdowns, the fewest in the history of the NFL. While undersized, Colts cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden and Tim Jennings are fast. Safeties Antoine Bethea and Melvin Bullitt are punishing tacklers, combining for 195 tackles this season.
San Diego: Antonio Cromartie made a name for himself by intercepting Peyton Manning three times in his first start in 2007. He has two interceptions this season. Quentin Jammer is solid (86 tackles) but doesn’t come up with as many big plays. The Chargers rank 31st against the pass (247.4 yards per game), and it’s because there’s little help from the linebackers and safeties, Eric Weddle and Clinton Hart.
Indianapolis: Adam Vinatieri, whose field goal as time expired won the regular-season game at San Diego, has made 20 of 25 field goals this season. Hunter Smith is a reliable as a punter, averaging 44.2 yards. But the Colts’ punt and kick return coverage units have been suspect.
San Diego: Kicker Nate Kaeding is typically reliable from short yardages, but he’s only made 4 of 9 from beyond 40 yards. Punter Mike Scifres has a booming leg, averaging 45.7 yards. Returner Darren Sproles averages 26 yards on kick returns and 11.3 on punts. He brought one kickoff back for a touchdown this season. The Chargers’ coverage unit is respectable.
Indianapolis: Tony Dungy has done the best coaching job of his career, guiding Indianapolis to nine straight victories and mixing a batch of youngsters into the lineup. While his lineup decisions have been questioned, he’s produced players like Buster Davis, Gijon Robinson and Keyunta Dawson, who have made surprising contributions. Dungy has won a Super Bowl and usually gets his players properly motivated in big games.
San Diego: While few coaches have been as maligned as Norv Turner was a month ago, he has guided his team to four straight victories. His offensive schemes are usually good, but he doesn’t always make proper adjustments on defense. Turner also doesn’t have a history of being very good in big games. But the Chargers did defeat the Colts in the playoffs last year.
Prediction: With the Chargers’ lowly pass defense, it’s tough to picture anything but a Colts victory – 35-28.