Bolts Notebook: Fight till the End

The Chargers close the regular season on Sunday against their division rivals from Kansas City. The Chiefs are locked into the No. 5 seed, and by the time kickoff rolls around, it is likely San Diego will have been eliminated from the playoffs. What can Bolts backers expect on game day? We delve inside this fascinating finale.

San Diego's playoff chances hinge on two contests that will be over (or almost over) by the time the Chargers and Chiefs get underway at 1:25 pm (PT). The Jets must win on the road in Miami, while the Bengals must win at home against Baltimore.

Let's look at those games one at a time.

The Jets have already been eliminated from the playoffs, while the Dolphins are very much alive (and have the best odds of capturing the AFC's No. 6 seed). But there are reasons for hope. Firstly, Geno Smith has authored an up-and-down season, but he will be driven to go out on a high note to show he's a QB the team can build around. Secondly, Rex Ryan is coaching for his job, and his exotic pass-rush schemes could give fits to a Dolphins team struggling to protect the passer (58 sacks allowed, worst in the NFL).

And then there is this gem from none other than former Charger and current Jet Antonio Cromartie: "This is our last game of the year. We want to make sure it's [Miami's] last game, too."

As for the Bengals, it is less of a stretch to see them winning. Cincinatti is 7-0 at home this season and is still fighting for seeding. A win plus a Patriots loss would give the Bengals a first-round bye, so they have every reason to compete, despite having already clinched their division and a subsequent playoff berth.

As for the Chargers, victory should not be difficult. The Chiefs will rest most of their starters, as they are the only team in the league with its playoff position finalized. That fact -- combined with the facts that the Chargers are desperate, playing at home and winners of three straight -- bodes well for the boys in blue.

Bill Barnwell of Grantland calculates San Diego's chances of making the playoffs at 11.5 percent (click here for that article). I would say the Jets have a 37 percent chance of winning, the Bengals have a 58 percent chance of winning and the Chargers have a 90 percent chance of winning, which would put San Diego's playoff odds at 18.2 percent. Either way, giving the Bolts a 1-in-5 shot would be generous.

This is not intended to deprive Chargers fans of Sunday's excitement before the action even begins. With a win, the Chargers would post their first winning record since 2010 and would finish 4-2 in the division (with a sweep of the Chiefs, to boot), carrying significant momentum into the offseason. In 2013, this team was projected to be a bottom-10 outfit. In 2014, it will be back to playoff-or-bust standards.

Sunday's game should be savored, even if the season's end isn't altogether savory.

Can the Chargers sneak into the playoffs? Discuss inside 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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