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
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.
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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. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.