Chargers at San Francisco 49ers: Who has the edge?

CHARGERS (5-3) at 49ERS (4-4)

When: 5:20 p.m. Sunday

Where: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara

TV/Radio: Ch. 4/98.7 FM; 105.5 FM/94.3 FM (Spanish)

Line: 49ers by 7

Notable injury designations: Chargers: WR Keenan Allen (out, hamstring), K Dustin Hopkins (out, hamstring), OL Brenden Jaimes (questionable, shoulder), RT Trey Pipkins III (questionable, knee), LB Chris Rumph II (doubtful, knee), WR Mike Williams (out, ankle). 49ers: DL Arik Armstead (out, foot/ankle), DL Samson Ebukam (doubtful, quadriceps/Achilles), CB Jason Verrett (out, Achilles).

What’s at stake: A fifth victory in their past six games would set up the Chargers nicely for the second half of the season. However, the Chargers are not favored by the oddsmakers for one of the few times this season, which probably says more about the beefed-up 49ers than the depleted Chargers. The addition of running back Christian McCaffrey and the stabilization of San Francisco’s quarterback situation, with Jimmy Garoppolo settling into the position, have made the 49ers a tougher challenge than they might have appeared back in August or September. So, how do the Chargers handle what appears to be their toughest opponent since facing the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2? Stay tuned.

Who’s better: The Chargers would get the nod if they were playing the 49ers at anything resembling full strength, but their injuries have piled up in seemingly unending fashion since Week 3, when they lost edge rusher Joey Bosa, wide receiver Jalen Guyton and offensive lineman Rashawn Slater to significant injuries. The Chargers’ replacements have done well to keep the team within striking distance of the AFC West-leading Chiefs. The 49ers would appear to be the better team on paper and probably on the field, as well. McCaffrey adds a dimension they lacked, giving opponents a versatile threat to consider on every snap.

Matchup to watch: Well, it would have been Bosa versus brother Nick Bosa of the 49ers in a battle of standout edge rushers, but that will have to wait until another day because of Joey’s groin tear that required surgery. So, let’s just say it’s the Chargers’ defense versus everybody the 49ers will throw at it, including Garoppolo, McCaffrey and wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who has been nursing a hamstring injury but will likely be a handful for the Chargers. Edge rusher Khalil Mack and safety Derwin James Jr. will be expected to play bigger than usual roles for the Chargers, and that’s saying a lot because they often come up big for them.

Chargers win if: The Chargers have fallen behind by double digits in the first quarter in four consecutive games, including by 10-0 last Sunday to the Atlanta Falcons. That they have won three of four says something about their ability to fight back, but generally speaking it’s really a suboptimal game plan. So, they must find a way to get an early lead against the 49ers. Or, at the very least, play San Francisco to a standstill in the first quarter and fight from a position of strength.

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Fantasy sleeper: Joshua Palmer has assumed the role of the Chargers’ top target, with Allen and Williams sidelined. Palmer caught eight passes for a season-high 106 yards against Atlanta. He’s likely to get plenty of attention from the 49ers’ secondary, but Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert will still try to find him.

Prediction: This game just screams trouble for the Chargers, who have been able to withstand many injuries to win four of their past five games. The 49ers are coming off a bye week and have had plenty of time to prepare for Herbert and the Chargers, and also to devise ways to take advantage of their patchwork defense. 49ers 35, Chargers 28.

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