Chargers worse than advertised?

The San Diego Chargers are alone atop the AFC West. This is not a misprint. It is a first this deep in a season since – well – since they began to slice bread. Ok, it hasn't been that long; it just feels like it has been as long as a month with the in-laws while the house is being refurbished.

The Bolts are 8-3 and nothing can be taken away from that. They are in the enviable position of controlling their own destiny. Cliché – you bet, even if it is true.

The road ahead gets quite treacherous. For a team that has only one win against teams with winning records, it could be deadly.

How is that possible? Jacksonville was the only team on the docket that they have been able to beat on the plus side of .500. They even lost their two preseason games against teams that are above .500 today.

The teams they have lost to, in season, are a cumulative 24-9. The teams they have beaten, just 34-54. The Chargers have proven they can beat the teams that should be beat, but little else.

The still have to face Denver (this week) and Indianapolis (on the road). Those two are a combined 15-7. They also get three against teams with losing records that amount to 10-23 as a group.

Using rationale that has no bearing on how the games will be played, the Chargers should win three of their remaining five games and end the year at 11-5. Which ones they win could determine whether they are holding a game in San Diego or playing on the road.

The division is up for grabs and a win this week would put the Chargers two games up in the division, with a 4-1 mark in division and 7-2 in the conference. When tiebreakers come into play, those are some pretty solid marks.

The Bolts realize the importance of these late season games. It is not how you start they preach, it is how you finish. And no game is more important than Sunday. Even their head coach Marty Schottenheimer would not dare say the team was good – until a win at home against Denver that is.

"If I have a smile on my face, then at the time I will be prepared to tell you we are a pretty good football team," he said. "Before this one, we are making progress."

By going 4-0, the Chargers completed their first winning November since 1996. They haven't had a winning record over the final two months of the season since 1995 ('99 was the last time they had a winning December). One more win will make that a reality over months 11 and 12 but there are five to play (one in January factored in) and the Chargers need to pick up the pace if they want to do more than qualify for the playoffs.

It isn't fashionable to make an appearance in the playoffs if you are not coming to play. Ask the Colts how they liked the 41-0 shellacking they received from the New York Jets back in January of 2003.

The importance of Sunday's game against Denver cannot be understated. The division is up for grabs and San Diego can pick up its second win against a team with a winning record. That, in itself, will be reason to celebrate.

"In this conference, you better win the division because there is no telling beyond that," Schottenheimer said.

There are no breaks on an NFL schedule, but the perception will remain until they beat the quality teams. Continuing the roll they are on well into December could mean more than a home playoff game but the proof that they deserve mention with the elite of the league must present itself this week.

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