The Chargers are in search of their eighth win, a .500 season and, incredibly, an AFC West title.
Thanks to the Bolts’ 41-24 win Sunday at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coupled with the Denver Broncos’ 30-23 loss at home later in the day to the Buffalo Bills, the 7-8 Chargers play the 8-7 Broncos Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium with the winner claiming the AFC West title.
The Chargers will be AFC West champs because they win the first tiebreaker for the title based on division records.
The Bolts are 4-1 in the AFC West — thanks to sweeps of the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs — and Denver is only 3-2 — thanks to blowing games to the hapless Raiders and Chiefs.
In fact, if it wasn’t for referee Ed Hochuli blowing a fumble dead that preserved an eventual win for Denver on Sept 14 — that game seems like three years ago rather than three months — the Chargers would already have the clinched the AFC West.
It may seem an incredible sequence has played out so that the Chargers are still using their nine lives, but not really. The AFC West is that bad.
Back when the Chargers were 4-7 with a loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the scenario that has played out could be easily projected. That’s because the Broncos lost the same day to the Raiders 31-10 to fall to 6-5.
To think the Broncos would lose two more games before coming to San Diego wasn’t that crazy. Indeed, it was the opposite.
One thing the Chargers’ players kept saying throughout all their disappointing losses is the team was still playing hard. It was always true, because this is a high-character bunch. They just weren’t playing well together, whether you want to place the blame on the coaching, fat contracts or injuries.
Yes, the Chargers will only be 8-8 if they win, but there is no rule that says you have to have a winning record to advance to the playoffs.
And consider this: The Bolts’ first-round playoffs opponent will likely be the Indianapolis Colts, the team that needed helps from the Chargers to win on a last second field goal.
Can the Chargers even think about advancing past the first round of the playoffs? As improbable as it sounds, in this improbable season, don’t bet against the Chargers seeing 9-8.
— TOM SHANAHAN