San Diego Chargers Play Grinch: Steal AFC West to Earn Playoff Berth

Brian SmithCorrespondent IDecember 29, 2008

Well, well, well. The Chargers are in the playoffs. A week ago, before they played Tampa Bay, I would have agreed with you that they would have to wait until 2009 to make a run for the Lombardi Trophy.

Who knew that the Broncos would allow the Bills to come back and beat them, and the Chargers would bloody up Jeff Garcia and the Buccaneers.

Because of the 8-8 season, many skeptics feel the Chargers don't deserve to be in the playoffs. They won their division, and last I checked, that's one way to qualify for the playoffs in the NFL.

Yes, the Patriots had a better record, and had they been in the AFC West they would be in the playoffs. However, they are not. So, I'm still trying to figure out what the big deal is regarding the complaints.

Moving along. The Chargers' four-game winning streak to end the season is more impressive than what most people will give them credit for. They played Oakland, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, and Denver.

Oakland, well, is Oakland.

However, to the non-Chargers informed out there, the Chargers have historically had problems beating the Chiefs regardless of who is on the Chargers squad.

So, yes, the Kansas City game was a strong win for the Chargers.

The Chargers played another tough opponent against the Buccaneers. Jeff Garcia exposed the weakness of San Diego's defensive backs but couldn't survive the shootout in Tampa Bay.

Against Denver the other night, the Chargers did show that they could keep a strong armed quarterback in check, even without putting much pressure on him in the pocket.

Yes, Denver pretty much imploded during the second half of the season, but that doesn't mean the Chargers got off easy.

Putting up 52 points against any NFL team (yes, even the Lions) is no easy task, and what people saw Sunday night was probably the closest glimpse of what the "real" Chargers look like. San Diego is still a dangerous team, but they don't need to score 45 to 50 points a game to win.

Watching the game again, it's amazing how the Chargers running game explodes when the offensive line is actually making their blocks. No, LaDainian Tomlinson is not washed up nor has he lost a step. His performance on Sunday night looked no different than he did in 2006 and 2007.

Also, this game showed why I don't think Jay Cutler is an elite quarterback. He can't handle pressure and can't make accurate throws at critical times. He's fine as long as he doesn't have to hurry, doesn't have to move his feet, and doesn't have to throw to a different receiver than he planned on when the ball was snapped.

Cutler may claim his arm is stronger than John Elway's arm. Well, I've seen firsthand what Elway did to the Chargers. Young man, you are no John Elway.

Now, the Chargers have to face Peyton Manning and the rest of the Colts. The Chargers have played the Colts rather well in their last four meetings. Their last meeting ended up as a Colts win with a last second 51 yard field goal.

The last time these two teams met, it was obvious that the Chargers defense ignored the film and scouting reports that Manning loves to throw to his tight ends on third downs. The Chargers will need to correct that if they want to keep the Colts offense off the field.

Can Norv Turner get his team ready for the Colts, or will it be another loss for the Chargers in the playoffs?

One thing is for sure, there probably won't be a pass rush to put any pressure on Manning. So, the porous Chargers defensive backs will have a lot riding on them.

The Chargers defense will have to sustain Manning from long drives and force three and outs.  The Chargers will have a good chance of winning if they can win the time of possession game.

Both the Colts and the Chargers are hot, no doubt about it. However, it's been a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Chargers team this year. There's no telling which Chargers team will show up this coming Saturday.

For Chargers fans, they hope it's the same team that played the Colts last year in the divisional round in Indy.