Preparing for the Rest

The Chargers will win the AFC West this season. A win over the Browns, arguably the worst team in the NFL right now, would all but make it official. With a win in Cleveland this weekend, the only way the Chargers could lose the division is if Denver wins their last three games, San Diego loses their remaining two games, and the Broncos make up 43 points worth of point differential, which would then become the applicable tie-breaker.

While it is possible that this could happen, it is about as unlikely as a sequel to The Chronicles of Riddick.

The only issue regarding the Chargers' playoff status left to be settled is whether they will be the number three seed or number four seed, and that will be determined during their week sixteen game against the Colts. However, the Chargers still have a home game after that against the Chiefs, and the division title may very well be locked up by then. If that is the case, the Chargers will have some interesting decisions to make.

The first decision will come at running back, and it should be an easy one. LaDainian Tomlinson will sit, not only to prevent injury, but make sure his injured groin is 100 percent healed. Also, backup Jesse Chatman will sit, because his lingering toe injury has kept him from being more involved in the offense. This means rookie running back Michael Turner would likely get his first career start, and would have a chance to become only the fifth player this season to make Dick Vermeil cry.

The second decision will be concerning the defensive players. Jamal Williams and Donnie Edwards would likely sit, as they are the most valuable members of the defense. Jason Fisk and Stephen Cooper would start in their positions, respectively. Also, Adrian Dingle would likely sit, as the constant post-operative pain in his knees has been more frustrating than George Bush's presidency.

Decision number three is the tough one, and it is in regards to who starts at quarterback. Starting Drew Brees does have its benefits, as the Chiefs defense has more holes than a Pistons' game has drunken fans. A big game by the offense may give the Chargers momentum heading into the post-season.

The counter argument is as follows: if the game is meaningless, Brees should sit in order to avoid injury. The tricky thing here is that with the Chargers unique situation at quarterback, this scenario raises more question marks than a Jayson Blair article. If Brees sits, then Philip Rivers gets to make the first start of his professional career. Seeing as the Chiefs defense makes scoring easier than Paris Hilton, it is fairly safe to say that Rivers should be able to expect a successful debut.

The good thing about this scenario is that it may very well bring out the best in Brees during the post-season. Brees has always been the ultimate competitor. He picked up his play during the pre-season when Rivers signed, and then took his game to the proverbial next level after Rivers was promoted to number two on the depth chart. Perhaps a good showing by Rivers, the player that management hand-picked as Brees' replacement, would motivate Brees all the more. Considering his steady success during this his contract year, it seems obvious that Brees is the kind of competitor that responds well to such pressure.

There is, however, a downside to starting Rivers. If Rivers has a stellar game as expected, that will only enhance the fans' perpetual affinity for the backup quarterback. If Brees struggles early during a home playoff game, only one week after a solid performance by Rivers during the Chiefs contest, the fans may start chanting for Rivers early and demanding an encore to his previous performance. This could prove to be more divisive than Vanessa Bryant.

The Chargers will clearly have some decisions to make as they prepare for their first trip to the post-season since 1995. If they make the right ones, the Chargers may be Super Bowl bound. If they make the wrong ones, however, then their charge to Jacksonville may be a bigger bust than Eli Manning.

Division tie-breaker rules between two teams:

1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the two clubs).
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games within the division.
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games within the conference.
4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, if applicable.
5. Best net points in division games.
6. Best net points in all games.
7. Strength of schedule.
8. Best net touchdowns in all games.
9. Coin toss.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at Lombardo@sportsnet.com

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