San Diego's next best chance to gain ground will be Week 15, when the Chargers travel to face the Kansas City Chiefs (1-10) and the Broncos go on the road to meet the NFC South-leading Carolina Panthers (8-3).
However, as Kansas City OT Damion McIntosh cautioned during an exclusive interview with SDBoltReport.com, the Chiefs won't be a rollover come December.
"We're getting closer as a young team," McIntosh said. "It's getting the confidence to say, ‘You know what? We've got weapons,' and then apply our will onto other teams."
QB Philip Rivers
If the Chargers can gain one game on the Broncos any time between now and Week 17, the final game of the regular season will determine which teams wins the AFC West Championship and earns the right to advance to postseason play.
"We're right there in the thick of it," said Chargers QB Philip Rivers. "They don't really care what your record is once you get (in the playoffs). But we have to be one of those teams that get there and it starts by beating Atlanta on Sunday."
History is not on the Chargers side. Atlanta is 6-1 in this series. The Falcons won the most recent meeting, a 21-20 victory in Atlanta in 2004, as well as the last meeting at Qualcomm Stadium, a 14-3 win back in 1997.
If the Chargers don't break from history on Sunday, history is what they will become.
--The key to stopping the Falcons may be slowing down former Charger Michael Turner. "The Burner" is one of only three players to top 1,000 yards (1,088) already this season. The Chargers are 1-5 this year when an opposing player rushes for more than 100 yards, something Turner has already done five times.
--Look for Ron Rivera to try to rattle rookie QB Matt Ryan. Although the Chargers have been criticized for their lack of a pass rush, San Diego has as many sacks through 11 games (23) as it did after 11 games last season. The Chargers finished last season ranked No. 5 in sacks with 42. An encore remains unlikely, although the Bolts have five sacks in the last two games.
--A win Sunday would give San Diego some much needed momentum heading into December. The Chargers have been one of the league's best teams in December over the last four seasons, going 14-4 during that span, including 5-0 in 2007.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.