Can SD seal the deal?

After 13 weeks of turbulence, the Chargers are finally where they want to be: one win away from their third AFC West championship in four years. San Diego has three chances wrap up the division, with the first coming this Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium, where the Chargers have won 13 of their last 14.

The Chargers will be without two of their core players on Sunday –- Shawne Merriman (knee) and Lorenzo Neal (leg) -– but their replacements now have all the motivation in the world. Marques Harris and Andrew Pinnock have combined for two starts in their careers, yet both could be in the starting lineup when the Chargers clinch the eighth division title in franchise history.

Although the Chargers have three opportunities to seal the deal, they realize the importance of slamming the door on Sunday. The Chargers have several important players battling injuries, and a guaranteed playoff spot would allow Norv Turner to rest those horses down the stretch.

If the Chargers win, Merriman doesn't need to worry about rushing back for a week 16 games against the Denver Broncos. The same goes for Luis Castillo (ankle). Two other starters, Jamal Williams (ankle) and Mike Goff (foot), could also be given time off to rest their injuries.

The Detroit Lions (6-7) are thinking playoffs, too. Despite being mired in a five-game losing streak, the Lions are only one game out of the final wild-card spot in the NFC.

"It's an opponent that we're not real familiar with; we don't play them every year," Philip Rivers said. "You have to really study it. It's not a team where you turn on the tape and know where everybody is right away. It's takes extra preparation to get a feel for who they are."

Recent history bodes well for the Chargers, as they needed just one attempt to clinch the divison in 2004 and 2006. They delivered resounding wins over the Cleveland Browns and Broncos, respectively, with an average margin of victory of more than 24 points.

On the flip side, recent history paints the Lions as the least playoff prone team in the league. The Lions haven't been to the postseason since ‘99, had a winning record since '97, or won their division since '93.

The Chargers know, however, that history won't do them any good on Sunday.

"I think they're a better team than their record shows," Harris said. "Last week, they definitely should've beaten the Cowboys. They're not going to roll over. They're going to come in here and give us their best shot."

While the Lions plan on landing their best shot, the Chargers are determined to deliver the knockout punch. A loss on Sunday would all but eliminate Detroit from the playoff race.

The Chargers would like nothing more than to run out of the tunnel in week 16 and be introduced as the AFC West champions, as the Broncos stand idly by. But for now, the team's focus remains on the game at hand.

"We're not guaranteed anything in January yet," Rivers said. "We're certainly sitting in the driver's seat, but we've got to go win."

Lightning Quick: Just when it appeared that Craig Davis was going to supplant Darren Sproles as the starting punt returner, Davis injures his Achilles tendon in practice. He will be reevaluated on Friday.

If Davis can't go, Sproles is healthy enough to return to action. It could also mean more playing time for Legedu Naanee. After catching passes in four consecutive games, Naanee has gone back-to-back games without a reception.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.

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