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Cleveland Browns vs. San Diego Chargers Game Preview

Who: San Diego Chargers

When: October 4 (Sunday, 4:05 PM)

Where: Qualcomm Stadium 

Series history (Last meeting): 8-14-1 (Browns 7, Chargers 6 at FirstEnergy Stadium in 2012)

The coach: Mike McCoy

The stakes: The Chargers have quietly missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons – even with perennial franchise quarterback Philip Rivers. Despite consecutive 9-7 records in his first two seasons, McCoy will be feeling the heat if San Diego misses the postseason again.

Matchup to watch: RB Melvin Gordon vs. DL Danny Shelton. A pair of first-round picks will be counted on heavily in their first NFL seasons. The Chargers lacked any type of consistency running the ball in 2014, while the Browns' detriment on defense was stopping it. The microscope will be a little heavier this week on Gordon and Shelton, who will have had a month to establish themselves. 


Offseason storyline: Is there a fork in the River(s)? San Diego and its starting quarterback for the last nine seasons have yet to agree on a new contract with his current one set to expire at the end of the 2015 season. While the 32-year-old Rivers has expressed his love for the organization and the city, other reports say it's possible the five-time Pro Bowler could play for a different team in 2016. If the Chargers finish below .500, it is very possible the club decides to move in a different direction instead of rewarding a $100 million contract.

Biggest addition: OL Orlando Franklin - A year ago with the Broncos, Franklin surrendered just one sack and eight quarterback hurries. He'll be playing left guard for the Chargers next to left tackle King Dunlap, forming a massive and often impenetrable duo.

He gone: RB Ryan Matthews - The California native bolted for Philadelphia once free agency hit, joining a crowded backfield with DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles. Matthews averaged 812 yards and nearly five touchdowns in five seasons with San Diego.

The star: S Eric Weddle. Most thought it was a travesty when the 30-year-old finished 86th on the NFL Network's top 100 players list. Weddle notched 114 tackles in 2014 and consistently has been a turnover machine, making the Pro Bowl three times in eight NFL seasons.

The X-Factor: WR Keenan Allen. In two NFL seasons, Allen is averaging 74 catches and nearly 1,000 yards receiving. Last season, though, his yards per catch dropped from 14.6 to 10.8. San Diego needs the 23-year-old to increase the number of big plays to firmly develop into a top-20 target in the league. 

They'll make the playoffs if...: Rivers plays lights out and elevates the play of others around him; if linebackers Denzel Perryman and Manti Te'o patrol the middle in the pass-happy AFC West and if Gordon is the real deal at running back.

The season will go south in a hurry if...: Rivers' contract remains a looming distraction; if the defense remains in the middle of the pack and if no second receiving option steps up.

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