A few things did run true to form, however. Indianapolis pulled out a victory with a fourth quarter comeback and San Diego secured the AFC West with Sunday’s victory over an emotionally charged Cincinnati Bengals team.
San Diego's win was fueled by a 46 yard, 51 second drive that resulted in a Nate Kaeding field goal to come away with a 27-24 victory.
With Minnesota looking a bit shaky lately and New Orleans proven fallible, San Diego’s win has them appearing more impressive.
This was not a Chargers team feasting on a marshmallow schedule.
The wins have provided a great record (11-3, now tied for third in the NFL) and playoff credibility (defeating AFC playoff teams Denver and Cincinnati, NFC playoff teams in Dallas and Philadelphia, and toppling New York and Denver on the road).
Another piece of playoff encouragement coming away from this game—running the football.
On both sides of the running game, San Diego has been its most vulnerable, giving up a string of 100 yard games to opposing offenses while averaging just over three yards a carry themselves.
Against Cincinnati, a power running team with a tremendous defense, San Diego fared much better.
The Cedric Benson/Larry Johnson tandem combined for only 88 yards. With the safety and middle linebacking units finally healthy, the team was able to slow down Cincinnati’s ground game.
On the offensive side of the football, Ladainian Tomlinson rushed for 59 yards on 16 carries.
That stat line won’t get fantasy owners anywhere, but it marks the first time in four games Tomlinson has gone above 3.2 yards-per-carry (at 3.7).
With the array of weapons in the passing game that should be all that is required of the running game on any given night. If the team can average at least 3.5 yards per carry, they are well situated for the postseason.
Up until this game, the primary question surrounding San Diego was its positioning going into the postseason.
Can they secure the division (a question prolonged by a brief two game resurgence by Denver)?
Once Indianapolis sealed the AFC West crown by staving off Denver in Week 14, the question became the first round bye.
Could San Diego secure a second seed?
With a two game lead over Cincinnati and New England and two games left, that question is answered.
San Diego’s matchup with Cincinnati gave them the tie-breaker over the Bengals; leaving only a San Diego win or tie, or a New England loss or tie to officially seal that second seed.
This team has spent the second half of the year as the plucky underdog no team really wants to play late in the season.
At 11-3, it has now shaken the image the 2-3 start gave them to rise to legitimate candidate status.
No team is truly dominant this year (seven teams have taken leads into the fourth against Indianapolis, the Saints have looked fallible for weeks, and Minnesota has now dropped two of their last three) and San Diego is peaking at the perfect time.
If they can carry this momentum into the playoffs, a head-to-head fight with Indianapolis for the right to play for the Vince Lombardi trophy is quite likely.
The Chargers in the post and regular seasons have historically fared well against the Colts during the Peyton Manning era. They have had five interceptions in a game and playoff wins with key starters shelved due to injury.
Las Vegas still puts the odds on Indianapolis and New Orleans to meet in the Super Bowl, but right now San Diego has to be putting fear in the hearts of the oddsmakers and opponents for their feisty play and capacity to overcome countless injuries to keep winning.
With several playoff-bound teams having concerns in the second half (Cincinnati has gone 2-3 in its last five games, New England lost two in a row and has followed by close wins against sub .500 teams), this very well may be the ideal time for San Diego to make a push for its second appearance in the championship game.
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