If they lose, their disappointing season is over -- save a regular-season finale against the first-place Broncos.
If they win, their disappointing season might be over -- if the Broncos defeat the Bills.
It's not exactly the way the Chargers envisioned entering Week 16. But when they trail the Broncos by two games with two to play, the numbers don't lie.
"We can only control what we can control," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "We put ourselves in this situation and obviously it's not a good feeling to need help.
"But hopefully, we want to make sure we do our part first, then hope for the best."
The Chargers sit at 6-8 thanks to a midseason slump, which saw them lose five of six games.
QB Philip Rivers
The Chargers nearly saw their year crash and burn last Sunday in Kansas City. They fell behind 21-3 at halftime then had to score 12 points in the final minutes to keep their playoff hopes on life-support.
And the players are looking for the momentum from that unlikely win to carry over against a Bucs team that figures to be in a sour mood.
What would be sweet to the Chargers is if they can gain their first road win against someone other than an AFC West dreg. Of the Chargers' two road wins against four defeats, one came at Oakland and the other came in Kansas City.
"We haven't been good on the road and they haven't lost at home this year," Rivers said of the Bucs' 6-0 mark. "Those two things don't mix well.
"It will be a heck of a game against a tough opponent."
Which quarterback that opponent starts remains to be seen.
Starter Jeff Garcia didn't play last week with a rib injury and he's yet to practice this week. If he can't go, Brian Griese does.
So the Chargers would get a break if it's Griese?
Back in 2004 when facing the Chargers, Griese set career highs with 393 passing yards and 36 completions; he also tossed three touchdown passes.
But that's in the deep past. The present shows the Chargers coming face-to-face with reality in a city where so many thought they would end their season -- at the Super Bowl.
Instead, that season might end one week before the curtain falls on the regular season.
"I think it's plain and simple, obviously what this game means," Rivers said. "It's right there for us and then we turn into a (Bills) fan obviously after the game, hopefully, if we can come away with a win."
A win allows hope to float at least for a few more hours.
"It will be a playoff-type game; it is a playoff game," Rivers said. "Every week has been a playoff game for us. If we lose, we know we are out."
SERIES HISTORY: 9th regular-season meeting. The Chargers have dominated this series as they have won seven of the eight contests. That includes all three of them played at Tampa Bay. This will be the first time, though, they have played in Raymond James Stadium.
--TE Antonio Gates and RG Kris Dielman were the only Chargers to be selected to the AFC Pro Bowl roster. For Gates, it was his fifth selection; Dielman's second.
OG Kris Dielman
--Among the bigger Chargers snubs for the Pro Bowl was P Mike Scifres. He leads the NFL with a 41.8-yard net average. "I make a case for Mike every chance I get," coach Norv Turner said last week. "He's outstanding. He's had a great year. He's done everything we've asked. He's done a great job with field position, getting us out of a hole when we're backed up and kicking the ball down inside the five. I haven't been around anyone that does it as well as he does."
--ILB Stephen Cooper is hopeful Sunday's dramatic win will have a carry over to Sunday. "When you dig down deep and pull one out the way we did, it's definitely something that you can feed off of," he said.
--RB Michael Bennett was with the Bucs for parts of the 2007-08 seasons. He has yet to get a carry since coming over this year to the Chargers.
--The Chargers have won but twice this year on the road -- at Oakland and Kansas City. It is 0-3 when playing three time zones away; Sunday's game is in Tampa Bay.
--DT Jamal Williams is coming off one of his better games of the season. Williams has had a great second half and has a career-high 10 tackles for loss to show for it.
--Bucs rookie QB Josh Johnson was a fifth-round pick last April out of the University of San Diego.
--Sunday's game was originally scheduled for prime time on NBC but was switched after the Chargers' second-half slide.
--The Chargers could be the third squad in NFL history to record a 3,500-yard passer (Phil Rivers), 1,000-yard receiver (Vincent Jackson) and 1,000-yard rusher (LaDainian Tomlinson).
BY THE NUMBERS: 12 -- Consecutive victories by the Chargers in December.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We know what we're capable of as a team. It's going to take a big effort in Tampa, but we're going to be ready to do our part and see what happens with Denver." -- ILB Stephen Cooper on the Chargers' outlook heading into Sunday's game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SS Clinton Hart is going to play this week and that could help the Chargers' cause in trying to slow down the Bucs' tight ends and lending a hand on dangerous wide receiver Antonio Bryant. With first-year starter Eric Weddle at free safety, the presence of Hart goes a long way into avoiding miscommunication on the defense's backend.
DE Luis Castillo
--DE Igor Olshansky, who is not expected to be brought back next season after gaining free agency, has gone nine straight games without a sack. He has two on the season.
--WR Chris Chambers' production continues to be inconsistent. He has three catches for 20 yards and no touchdowns in his past three games.
--CB Antonio Cromartie did a lot of yapping before the season regarding his goal to set an NFL record with 15 interceptions. Cromartie, who led the NFL with 10 picks, last year, has only two this season, both of which came on Sept. 22.
--QB Philip Rivers is five touchdown passes shy of tying Dan Fouts' team mark of 33 touchdown tosses in a season. Rivers, who was the AFC Offensive Player of the Week, is coming off his career-high fifth 300-yard passing game of the season.
--ILB Stephen Cooper, despite being suspended the first four games of the season, leads the team in tackles (117) and interceptions (three).
GAME PLAN: Look for the Chargers to lean on two old favorites, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates, in attacking the Bucs defense.
The Tampa Bay run defense has shown some leaks of late and Tomlinson is primed for a big game on a fast field with no weather conditions holding him back.
Gates is looking to build on one of the better games of his season, while proving his Pro Bowl selection is no mistake.
Wide receiver Malcolm Floyd isn't going to play, and he's been among the most consistent of the Chargers' receivers. With him out, that will limit Rivers' options down field, which might make him play close to vest by giving the ball to Tomlinson or hitting Gates on the underneath routes.
With Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks' availability in question, Tomlinson could find the running room keener to racking up big yards.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
WR Vincent Jackson
With the Chargers turning to a pass-first offense, they'll be looking to heave the ball outside the hash marks to the wide outs. Jackson and Floyd are having career years, but Floyd might not play after suffering a collapsed lung in Kansas City. It's time for Chambers to have a big game as he's been quiet of late. But the Bucs, with their vaunted Cover 2, won't be easy to pick on. Barber is tied with Talib for the team lead with four interceptions. Buchanon, who the Chargers know from facing him twice a year when he was with the Raiders, has two picks -- one he returned for a touchdown. He also leads the team with 12 passes defensed.
Chargers pass defense vs. a Bucs passing game featuring TEs Alex Smith, John Gilmore and Jerramy Stevens.
The Chargers have been torched by tight ends all season and last week was no exception with the Chiefs' Tony Gonzalez caught six passes for 62 yards and a score. The Chargers will need some help from linebackers like Matt Wilhelm dropping into coverage and also help from the strong safety spot. Clinton Hart is the starter at strong safety, but he has missed the last couple of games with a neck injury. If he does go, he might be compromised. If he can't play, Steve Gregory would fit in and that's a big of a drop-off. The Bucs' tight ends have combined for 68 receptions for 745 yards and six touchdowns. Tampa Bay is 6-0 when one of its tight ends has a scoring reception.
Chargers running game, with LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles against a Bucs run defense that has been exposed of late.
It'll be interesting to see which Bucs run defense shows up, particularly if LB Derrick Brooks can't play. Tomlinson needs 76 rushing yards to reach 1,000 in a season for the eighth straight year. But he only has two 100-yard rushing games this season. Sproles gets an occasional handoff, but most of his running plays are disguised as short passes in the flat where he can run in space. The Bucs' run defense has dived to No. 20 in the league with some shoddy play of late -- rivals are gaining an average of 115 yards per gain. The Chargers might find a soft spot here, if they take the effort to establish the run.
--WR Malcom Floyd (lung) didn't practice Wednesday and will not play this week. Legedu Naanee and Kassim Osgood could see more playing time.
--C Nick Hardwick (concussion) practiced and will start Sunday.
--FB Mike Tolbert (shoulder) practiced and could be active this week.
--DT Jamal Williams was given his customary Wednesday off and will start this week.
--S Clinton Hart (neck) practiced and will play Sunday.
--CB Quentin Jammer (ill) didn't work but should be fine for Sunday.
--ILB Stephen Cooper (knee) didn't work but is expected to start Sunday.
--LB Anthony Waters (hamstring) didn't work and he could be down this week.
--WR Vincent Jackson (concussion) worked and is fine.