But a second-half slide has nearly extinguished those hopes.
Still, their slim playoff chance stays alive when they face the Buccaneers Sunday. But by only the smallest of margins, thanks to a dramatic 22-21 win over Kansas City on Sunday.
"We've had a lot of games like this where we've been on the short end of the stick, and it's nice to actually be on top," wide receiver Vincent Jackson said.
After rallying to defeat the Chiefs in the final minute, the Chargers got a break when the Broncos followed with a loss to the Panthers.
SS Steve Gregory
To keep Denver within reach, the Chargers must win Sunday. And, hope the Broncos fall to the Bills.
But to keep a pulse, the Chargers would have to win their third straight game -- something they haven't done all season.
That, and all the other shortcomings this disappointing team has shown means little now. The year boiled down to the Chargers having to win their last three games and the Broncos drop their final trio.
So far, so good.
To prevail in Tampa Bay, the Chargers will have to shore up their pass protection against the Buccaneers' active front seven.
The Chiefs had just six sacks prior to facing the Chargers yet collected three against them. The Chargers' offensive line -- which was missing two starters for parts of the game -- was exposed.
That, and Philip Rivers was holding on to the ball late, trying to make something happen in bringing the Chargers back; he did lose a fumble.
Rivers will be looking for his sixth 300-yard passing game of the season against Tampa Bay. While Rivers often faced a fierce pass rush, he showed enough moxie to throw two late touchdown passes and finish with 356 passing yards.
While the aerial game fueled the comeback, the running game is still searching for its legs.
LaDainian Tomlinson had yet another mediocre game and will have a rugged Bucs run defense waiting. Tomlinson, who has rushed for 100 yards in just two games this season, was held to 39 yards on 14 carries. He was often hit in the backfield as it was a challenge to find creases.
The defense is hoping to build on its improved play in Tampa Bay. Since Ron Rivera took over as coordinator last month, the unit has been more aggressive and effective.
The Chargers, though, could be pressed into having to prepare for two different quarterbacks this week. It isn't known if Jeff Garcia will return and replace Brian Griese, after Garcia missed the last game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know we are 6-8, but that win said a lot about the character of this team." -- QB Philip Rivers, on the Chargers keeping their slim playoff hopes alive with a dramatic win in Kansas City.
TRENDING: The Chargers were able to make Sunday's game mean something by notching another win against an AFC West opponent last Sunday. The Chargers have won but six games and all but two of them are against either Denver, Kansas City or Oakland. If the Chargers can get to the final game of the season one game behind Denver -- then beat Denver -- the Chargers would advance to the playoffs as the AFC West champion because of a divisional record of 5-1.
--SS Clinton Hart (neck) was inactive after suiting up and not playing the previous game. He will try to go this week.
--C Nick Hardwick hurt his neck and had to be removed on a cart. He could be down this week.
--C Jeremy Newberry stepped in when C Nick Hardwick went down. Newberry has supplied good depth as he was the starter earlier this year when Hardwick was rounding into shape.
--FB Mike Tolbert (shoulder) has missed the past three games.
--LG Kris Dielman was ejected from the game for unnecessary roughness but likely doesn't face a suspension.
--WR Chris Chambers had his first catch in two weeks against the Chiefs. He had two receptions for 28 yards.