Chargers Treading Water

The San Diego Chargers picked up a key win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, 23-13. The victory serves as a reprieve for a team trying to tread water until its bye in Week 5.

The Chargers carried one goal into the regular season: win a fourth consecutive AFC West title. By doing that, San Diego would guarantee itself a playoff berth and at least one home game in the postseason.

There was talk in some NFL circles this offseason that the Chargers might clinch the division by Thanksgiving. However, given San Diego's injury-riddled roster and Denver's 3-0 start, that scenario seems highly unlikely.

The Chargers won't put a stranglehold on the division in the season's first month, so the team must prepare to make its move when given the opportunity. That will come in Weeks 6-8 when the Bolts host the Broncos, visit the Chiefs and host the Raiders.

LB Stephen Cooper
Kevork Djansezian/Getty
There are two keys to readying for that stretch of divisional games: 1) get there with a respectable record as to allow a quick move up the standings; and 2) get there as healthy as possible to ensure top performances.

The Chargers expect to come out of the bye in pretty good shape physically. While NT Jamal Williams is out for the season and C Nick Hardwick won't be back till after that divisional run, several players should be back to 100 percent.

LaDainian Tomlinson (ankle), Louis Vasquez (knee) and Travis Johnson (groin) are the key players the Chargers are eager to get back into the rotation. Also, Shawne Merriman (groin) and Stephen Cooper (ankle) are nursing nagging injuries that could sorely use an extra week's rest.

If San Diego can get all those players back healthy by Week 6 -- and avoid any more serious injuries -- the team could position itself very nicely in the AFC West.

This leaves two big questions. Firstly, will the Chargers hit their bye week at 3-1 or 2-2? And secondly, how much do the Chargers care about that distinction?

The answer to the second question will be discovered this week when the Chargers decide what to do with injured players like Tomlinson, Merriman, Vasquez and Johnson. Will the team make every effort to get these players into the lineup in hopes of dropping the Steelers to 1-3? Or will the Chargers go conservative and focus on getting everyone 100 percent healthy for the divisional gauntlet?

Whatever the Chargers do, it will be with a singular goal in mind: win the AFC West. And until they're fit enough to make their move up the standings, the Bolts are just treading water.

How should the Chargers handle this situation? Talk about it in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the 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. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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