The San Diego Chargers host the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football in Week 9. We're sure ESPN thought it was getting a solid game when the match was scheduled in the spring, but the fates have conspired against the network. The Chargers sank to 2-6 while the Bears are sitting at 2-5, making this one of the more low-stakes primetime matchups of the season.
For the Bears, their poor season was to be expected. After getting off to an 0-3 start, the front office quickly raised the white flag, trading away veteran pass rusher Jared Allen to the Carolina Panthers. Chicago has since recovered with Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery healthy, but this is still a rebuilding team.
The Bears got more bad news in Week 8. Besides losing to the Minnesota Vikings (thus taking them out of the NFC wild card picture for good), they lost star running back Matt Forte to an MCL injury. Forte is expected to miss a couple of weeks, so rookie Jeremy Langford will be starting in the backfield. It's another big setback, but the Bears are used to those in a season that seems like a write-off.
Unlike the Bears, the Chargers were actually expected to make some noise this year, but injuries have wrecked them. They suffered another big loss last Sunday when wide receiver Keenan Allen suffered a lacerated kidney, ending his season. It's a crippling blow for the offense -- before going down, Allen was on pace for 134 catches and 1,450 yards.
At 2-6, San Diego is out of the AFC West chase, and the Wild Card looks like a long shot in a competitive conference. This will only put more pressure on head coach Mike McCoy and general manager Tom Telesco as rumors of a Los Angeles move continue to swirl.
Despite San Diego's struggles, Philip Rivers is playing some of the best football of his life. Through eight games, Rivers already has 2,754 passing yards, putting him on pace for 5,508. For reference, the single-season record is held by Peyton Manning, who tossed 5,477 yards in 2013.
Rivers could well reach that milestone if the running game doesn't show up. San Diego is averaging just 86.4 rushing yards per game, 29th in the league. First-round pick Melvin Gordon has been a disappointment and Danny Woodhead is mostly a pass-game specialist. The unit took another hit when Branden Oliver was put on the injured reserve list.
Star safety Eric Weddle has been sidelined with a groin injury, but he may return this week. Otherwise, this side of the ball is thinner than ever. The Chargers are 27th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game and 27th in points allowed. The porous unit has forced Rivers into comeback mode more often than not, often leading to impressive box scores for the veteran quarterback.
The Bears were expected to have one of the league's worst defenses heading into the season, and they've mostly lived up (down?) to those expectations, ranking 29th in rushing yards allowed per game. However, the passing defense has been better than expected, giving up the fourth-fewest passing yards per game. That can be credited to new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who helped build ferocious defenses with the San Francisco 49ers. Bears fans should be excited about Fangio's potential when he gets a talent infusion.
Have rumors of Cutler's demise been exaggerated? Since coming back from a hamstring injury in Week 4, the mercurial veteran has thrown just two interceptions in the past four games, which is downright impressive by Cutler's standards. He hasn't missed a beat with Brandon Marshall gone, establishing a new top-level chemistry with Jeffery.
Who to watch
Jeremy Langford, Bears running back: With Forte gone, we won't know what this offense looks like. Langford rushed for 46 yards on 12 carries while filling in for Forte in Week 8, but he could be better with a full week of practice as the top guy going up against San Diego's run defense. During the preseason, Langford rushed for 153 yards on 28 carries.
Stevie Johnson, Chargers wide receiver: Johnson has the best chance to step up with Allen done for the year. The problem, as usual with Chargers players, is that Johnson has his own injury concerns. He missed two games with a hamstring injury and sat out part of the Week 8 game with a shoulder ailment. If Johnson stays on the field, he can make plays, but that's a big if.
How to watch
When: 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
Announcers: Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters
The Chargers are the favorite at home among the experts, but it's not a clean sweep. CBS Sports is unanimously backing San Diego, but SB Nation's NFL experts don't have a consensus on the winner, with an even 4-4 split across the board.
The Chargers are 3.5 point favorites with an over/under of 52, according to OddsShark.
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