Five to Watch: Reasons for Hope

Despite a discouraging 3-5 start, the Chargers have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about playing into January. With the season at its midpoint, Samantha Fillerup details five reasons why the Chargers will be playoff-bound.

1. Better Health: Injuries have been a problem for several top players, a lingering concern that should be alleviated by the bye week. Among those using the extra time to continue the healing process are LaDainian Tomlinson (toe), Antonio Gates (hip, toe), Antonio Cromartie (hip) and Stephen Cooper (knee).

When healthy, the aforementioned players are among the NFL's best. Tomlinson led the NFL in rushing each of the last two seasons; Gates is the league's record-holder for single-season touchdowns by a tight end; Cromartie tied a franchise record last year with 10 interceptions; and Cooper led the Chargers in 2007 with 108 tackles.

2. Stingier Defense: If defense really is the best offense, then it's a minor miracle the Chargers rank second in points per game (28). With the promotion of Ron Rivera to defensive coordinator, the Bolts hope for more aggression, energy and productivity.

The Chargers defense has struggled to find its footing without Shawne Merriman. The defense ranks No. 23 in points allowed per game (24.9), nine spots lower than last year (17.8). The schedule will provide some relief, as none of the Chargers' remaining opponents rank in the top-third of the NFL in points per game. Nonetheless, Rivera will use the bye week to devise a plan for change.

QB Philip Rivers
Rick Stewart/Getty

3. Increased Urgency: The Chargers have always played their best with their backs against the wall, posting a combined 27-5 record over the second halves of the last four seasons. This year, San Diego will be helped by playing in a conference where no cluster of teams has established a clear upper tier.

4. Struggling Competition: The AFC West is a watered-down division. The only competition for the crown is the Denver Broncos, who boast a modest 4-3 mark and who've lost three of their last four.

The Oakland Raiders are 2-5 and with a new head coach, so they are firmly in rebuilding mode. The Kansas City Chiefs are 1-6 and down to their No. 3 quarterback, so their playoff hopes are over. The Broncos face will face the Miami Dolphins this week, a team Chargers fans know is capable of playing tough.

5. Favorable Schedule: It's good to be home and -- after a long road trip and two painful defeats -- the Bolts are happy to be back. The Chargers are 2-1 in the friendly confines of Qualcomm Stadium this season and were 15-1 at home between the 2006 and 2007 seasons. The Chargers are scheduled at home for four of the next five games and five of the final eight, which bodes well for a late-season playoff push.

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