The Denver Broncos, who trail the Chargers by one game, are on the road this week against the undefeated Indianapolis Colts. And the Cincinnati Bengals, who are tied with the Chargers for the second-best record in the conference, are also on the road to take on the 10-2 Minnesota Vikings.
But first thing's first…San Diego must conquer a Cowboys team that will be treating this contest like a playoff game.
"When you win, it doesn't get easier to win, but your confidence and your level of play seems to rise each week," Philip Rivers said. "I don't really think there is a danger in it other than when people get caught up in it and start talking about the postseason and where we stand. As long as we don't let that talk get in our way, I think we'll be fine."
FS Eric Weddle
Nonetheless, San Diego's ability to extend its winning streak has little to do with Rivers. The sixth-year QB is a sure bet to deliver in Dallas; the Chargers' defense, on the other hand, is riddled with question marks.
Last week in Cleveland, the Chargers played without three starters (Shawne Merriman, Luis Castillo and Eric Weddle) and it showed, as the Browns piled up 374 yards and 24 first downs.
Castillo should return this week; he was a full participant in Wednesday's practice. Merriman practiced on a limited basis and will try to go, although he'll likely be limited. Weddle missed practice and is a long shot.
Of the three, Castillo's presence could prove most vital. The Chargers have two other D-linemen battling injuries: Alfonso Boone (knee) and Travis Johnson (groin). Also, the team was forced to put NT Ogemdi Nwagbuo on IR this week with an ankle injury; his replacement, Antonio Garay, is unlikely to be up to speed by Sunday.
"Shawne Merriman has been one of the elite guys in [making game-changing plays]" Norv Turner said. "Luis is awfully good in terms of a playmaker inside and Eric Weddle is the same type of player."
The Chargers need all their defensive hands on deck against a Cowboys offense that ranks third in the league. That's especially true of the players in the front seven. Dallas' Tony Romo is extraordinarily dangerous outside the pocket, which spells trouble for a defense that has seen too many opposing QBs slip out of apparent sacks.
"The thing that jumps out to you is that he's such a good athlete, he creates plays with this athletic ability," said Turner of Romo. "You have to do a great job of containing him. He's going to break contain because he does every game. Once he does, you have to do a great job of picking up the receivers and covering because he makes big plays with his athletic ability."
If San Diego can corral Romo and the Cowboys, it will go a long way towards punching a playoff ticket for the fourth consecutive year. If not, the Chargers risk losing the inside track on an invaluable first-round bye.
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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.