49ers, Chargers in must-win mode

Sports Network

, Last Updated: 11:36 AM ET

The San Diego Chargers have made strong late-season finishes an art form in recent years, while the San Francisco 49ers are beginning to earn a reputation as a team that does its best work over the second half as well.

The two also share a similar predicament heading into a Thursday night interconference clash at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, with the loser of this Week 15 tilt likely faced with a major uphill climb in regards to making the playoffs.

Both the Chargers and 49ers presently sit one game out of first place in their respective divisions entering Thursday's matchup, with each team digging itself into a sizeable hole it's yet to completely crawl out of. San Diego has turned it on following a thoroughly disappointing 2-5 beginning to the season, having recorded victories in five of its last six contests, while San Francisco rebounded from a dreadful 0-5 start by winning five of eight games since.

The Chargers closed the gap on front-running Kansas City in the AFC West with an authoritative 31-0 home triumph over the short-handed Chiefs a week ago, in which their top-ranked defence yielded a paltry 67 total yards and five first downs in a suffocating display. The five first downs tied a franchise record for the least allowed in a single game, while the yardage total was the second- fewest in club history.

The resounding result improved San Diego to a sparkling 19-1 in December games since 2006, with the lone blemish a startling 28-13 loss to visiting Oakland in Week 13.

With road dates at doormats Cincinnati and Denver only left on the regular- season slate, the Chargers should have an opportunity to claim a fifth consecutive AFC West title if they can get past the resurgent 49ers and the Chiefs lose one of their three remaining games. San Diego would edge Kansas City in a tie-breaker if the rivals wind up deadlocked and it wins out by virtue of a superior conference record.

The Chiefs will visit St. Louis this weekend before closing out with home tests against Tennessee and Oakland, none of whom presently own a positive record.

San Francisco also gained some ground in the NFC West race this past Sunday after throttling skidding Seattle by a 40-21 score at Candlestick Park. With St. Louis also suffering a loss in Week 13, the Niners now have only one fewer win than the Seahawks and Rams in the battle for the division's top spot and travel to St. Louis for a high-stakes showdown following Thursday's bout.

A quarterback change and a submissive Seattle defence enabled San Francisco, one of the league's lowest-scoring teams this year, to register its highest point output of the season. In his first action since Oct. 24, former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith delivered one of the best performances of his checkered career, throwing for 255 yards and three touchdowns without an interception on 17-for-27 passing.

Smith will try to build off that impressive showing and attempt to direct San Francisco to back-to-back wins for the first time in 2010. Prevailing on the road has been a problem for the Niners, though, as they'll be heading into Qualcomm Stadium with a 1-5 ledger as the guest this season.

The Chargers sport a 5-2 mark at home, with four of those victories coming by a margin of 21 points or greater.


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