It's not the playoffs, but it might as well be.
The Chargers, winners of eight straight, face the Indianapolis Colts, winners of seven straight, with a possible higher seeding in the playoffs on the line at the RCA Dome on Sunday.
Sure, the focus will be on Colts quarterback Peyton Manning as he zeros in on the single-season touchdown mark. But after the Patriots stumbled on Monday night against the Dolphins, suddenly both the Chargers (11-3) and Colts (11-3) are eyeing the No. 2, or No. 1 seed, in the postseason.
For that to happen, but teams would need some help. But they can help themselves by winning Sunday, then taking their regular-season finales.
The Chargers' defense has been playing well of late, coming off a shutout of the Cleveland Browns. But they know the Colts are a whole different story. They'll face an offense that has more fire power than anyone in the league with Manning, running back Edgerrin James, and wide receivers Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley.
"We have a great challenge ahead of us this week against the Colts," said linebacker Donnie Edwards, the NFL's leading tackle with 136, and a team-high four interceptions.
"It's one of the best offenses in football," Edwards said, "so I'm really excited about the opportunity."
The Chargers, with the NFL's second-best run defense, would be even more proud if they could waltz into the RCA Dome with a couple Pro Bowlers on defense. But despite the stellar play of Edwards and Jamal Williams, not a single Charger on that side of the ball is headed to Hawaii. Williams was named a first alternate.
"You would think when you are No. 1 or No. 2 against the run the entire year you would have one or two guys from the front seven make the Pro Bowl," Edwards said. "I don't know. We are just Chargers, just trying to get it done. You can't worry about things you can't control."
The Chargers have been in the driver's seat for some time, and haven't veered off course. They have already secured the AFC West crown, something few thought possible in the wake of last year's 4-12 car wreck.
"We're in a great position," Edwards said. "No one gave us a chance, and all our backs were against the wall this entire year. And we kind of made this team from nothing. We're 11-3 right now and really excited."
Getting carved up by Manning would put them in a different mood, and it wouldn't be that much of a stretch with the Chargers featuring the No. 16 pass defense. But to a man, the defenders said they are looking forward to the challenge, while making sure they aren't the one in coverage if Manning throws two touchdown passes, with the second one giving him the record.
But even if that happens, don't expect the Chargers to stay down long. They've done too much and feature too much veteran leadership to go completely off course.
"Hopefully, we will get to our ultimate goal," said Edwards, about a Feb. 6 date in Jacksonville. "For right now, we got the Colts ahead of us and it's a battle for the third seed for the playoffs. And the guys are real excited for this chance."
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