Chargers-Chiefs Pivotal in AFC West

The last time the Chargers started 3-0 in the division was 1996, so long ago that the first of those division wins came against the Seattle Seahawks. San Diego has a chance to match that mark on Monday if it can topple the 3-3 Chiefs in Kansas City. Here is a look at the importance of this divisional contest.

The Chargers know the Chiefs are a threat. Kansas City has won three consecutive games and -- lest anyone forget -- is the defending division champion. Finishing 10-6 a season ago, the Chiefs halted San Diego's streak of four straight division crowns.

The Chargers can take a big step towards reclaiming the division on Monday. A victory would give San Diego a two-game edge over Kansas City, not to mention the tie-breaker that accompanies a season sweep. That amounts to essentially a three-game lead with nine games to play.

It would also give the Chargers a great chance to sweep at least two of their division foes. Norv Turner's team has already won in Denver and the Week 12 home rematch against the Broncos is arguably the easiest game left on the schedule.

So, a win on Monday sets up the Chargers nicely to pad their divisional record.

OLB Antwan Barnes
How important is that? Just ask the Oakland Raiders, who last season went 2-8 outside of the AFC West but still finished with a non-losing record for the first time since 2002.

Those same Raiders appear to be the most serious threat in the AFC West. But unlike last season, these Raiders already have a loss in the division, falling at home last week against the Chiefs, 28-0. That means, if San Diego wins on Monday, all the Chargers have to do is split with the Raiders to assure themselves of winning every tiebreaker inside the division.

But all of that is moot if the Chargers don't beat the Chiefs on Monday Night Football. It is a game that is sneakily important and could decide San Diego's playoff fate.

Lightning Quicks

--San Diego's pass rush will be limited Monday. Days after putting Larry English on injured-reserve, the team learned it will be without leading-sacker Shaun Phillips due to a foot injury. That leaves Travis LaBoy and Antwan Barnes as the starting outside linebackers, while undrafted rookie Darryl Gamble will be forced to play more snaps than anyone is comfortable with.

--Gamble will not be the only rookie looking at an increased role. Marcus Gilchrist will supplant Antoine Cason in the starting lineup, while Vincent Brown may play a bigger role if Malcom Floyd (hip) is unavailable or limited.

--Looking for an X-factor? Keep an eye on Antonio Garay. With San Diego's outside pass rush compromised, it is paramount Garay get a push up the middle and pressure Matt Cassel. If he can force Cassel off his spot and put a hand in his face, it'll create opportunities for San Diego's secondary. If not, Cassel may pick apart the Chargers with short, safe throws, just like he did in the second half of their Week 3 meeting.

What are Chargers fans saying about this game? Find out in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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