Among the reasons the Chargers were able to shed a 2-3 start and win eight straight games is a resolve not to look too far ahead. That has gotten them in trouble in previous years, and the players swear they have learned from their mistakes.
So while it may not be sensational, and it may not make for any bulletin-board material for the Bengals, the Chargers are -- ho-hum -- staying the course.
"I believe we're playing one of the better teams in the league on Sunday," coach Norv Turner said.
"I'm glad it's at our place. I'm glad our crowd is going to be a part of it. We're going to have to prepare to play our best, and it has nothing to do with anything other than we're getting ready to play a good football team."
If the Chargers win, they punch their playoff ticket. They could make it if a zillion other things do or don't happen, but the easiest way to compute it is this: Win and you're in.
And while the Chargers are stiff-arming talk of just how far they could go in the playoffs, they do admit they know what's at stake. Not only could the Chargers claim their fourth consecutive AFC West title, a triumph puts them in the driver's seat for the AFC's No. 2 seed.
"That's something to be aware of as a team," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "That's the first goal that you have. Obviously you want to win your division, which we still have some work to do to get that done.
"You want to just get in. This game this weekend will allow that to happen if we go out and play well and win the game.
"Other than go further than that, I wouldn't see a need to because there are a lot of things that have to happen, both with us and other teams. We control what we control. (If) we win this game we can be assured to play past January 3."
But the Bengals are no pushover and will be smarting from their 30-10 loss to the Vikings.
"I know they're extremely talented," Turner said.
"The things they've done defensively, they're ranked up in the top in most categories. They run the ball extremely well. They're in the middle of having an awfully good season. It's going to be every bit as big a challenge as the better teams we've played."
The Chargers just dusted off a pretty good bunch in the Cowboys. That they did so in Dallas only made the win that much sweeter.
But the Chargers are being careful not to let the taste of that victory stay with them long. If they're still living in the past, the present will be one tough beast on Sunday.
OT Marcus McNeill
Jacob de Golish/Getty
"I think that'll be key. It's certainly worth being aware of to not let that happen. I think it'll be a key as we move through these next couple of weeks."
Left tackle Marcus McNeill is confident the high-riding Chargers won't enter Sunday with a large noggin.
"All of our confidence is always in-house," he said. "We keep it within ourselves and have always been confident even when we were at 2-3. It's easy not to let ourselves become big-headed."
SERIES HISTORY: 29th regular-season meeting. The Chargers lead series, 18-10, with the win in their last meeting being one of the most exciting in team history. The visiting Chargers twice overcame 21-point deficits to pull out a 49-41 triumph. The Chargers have won four of the last five, seven of the last nine and 10 of the last 14 meetings. The most famous game between these teams came in the 1981 AFC Championship Game, when the Chargers fell to the Bengals in one of the coldest games in league history.
--QB Philip Rivers notices a difference around the league in how teams move the ball since he came into the NFL -- especially with teams leaning on the pass instead of the run. "The game itself has somewhat changed," he said. "I don't know if changed is the word, other than it goes in and out of phases. You look around the league and everybody's in 'empty' (backfield). And then you turn back and everybody is going three tight ends and running some different things. So I think it kind of just goes in and out of phases.
"But certainly this year, and maybe in the past few years, it's been more of a pass-happy league to a certain extent with an empty backfield and getting five wide receivers out. Then it gets into crunch time and you have two backs in the backfield and two tight ends and you have to go sustain a drive to seal the game. It comes down to being able to be physical and able to run the ball late in games."
--FS Eric Weddle is expected back this week; he has missed two games with a knee injury. Weddle said he could have played last Sunday in Dallas, but the team was being cautious with his injury. He did reveal that being out was a learning experience. "I saw a lot of things that will help me and the defense," he said. "Being the older guy back there I could see some things that will help us in the stretch run."
--With Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco in town, talk has turned to touchdown celebrations. What would LT Marcus McNeill do if he ever reached the end zone? "If I ever scored a touchdown, I'd have six different celebration dances," McNeill said. "They might have to go to commercial break and come back like that Dr. Pepper commercial."
--WR Vincent Jackson said the Chargers still have many more chapters in their playbook. Jackson took a handoff from LaDainian Tomlinson on Sunday and then flipped it back to QB Philip Rivers for a pass play. "Our coaches are pretty creative so I'm sure you'll see a few more things," Jackson said.
--Does ILB Brandon Siler get upset when the publicity goes to the offense and not the defense? "Not really because it isn't our job to get the media to talk about us," he said. "Our job is to win games and as long as we are doing that along with stopping other teams, I think we'll be all right. We have our own goals that we achieve for ourselves, and as long as we are achieving those goals, we're happy regardless of what people are saying."
--Team president Dean Spanos, who is trying to build a new stadium, came away impressed with the splashy Cowboys Stadium. "Probably half of this would be great in San Diego," he said. "It is pretty impressive and you have to give Jerry Jones a lot of credit for what he has done here." The Chargers are still eyeing a site next door to Petco Park, but that downtown site would required taxpayers' funds, and that's a deal-breaker for many San Diego citizens.
--Coach Norv Turner said it's no accident the team has gone 6-1 on the road this season; the Chargers finish their road slate on Christmas Day in Tennessee. "It was a big point of emphasis," he said. "I think we made a big emphasis about everything we do in terms of the way we prepare. I don't know that we changed that much, but we emphasized how important it was to do the things you have to do to get ready. Our guys have done that."
--QB Philip Rivers could reach 4,000 yards passing with 417 yards on Sunday. Rivers and Dan Fouts are the only players in team history to pass for more than 4,000 yards in a season. Fouts did it three straight years (1979-81) with his streak stopped by the 1982 strike-shortened year. Rivers did throw his 100th touchdown pass in the win over Dallas.
BY THE NUMBERS: 28 -- Number of times the Chargers have scored in their last 29 visits to the red zone. Over that span, they have 18 touchdowns and 10 field goals.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "What we are willing to talk about is what we can control and we can control by winning this game that we will be in the postseason. That is real. That's there." -- QB Philip Rivers on the team's mindset entering Sunday's game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
S Eric Weddle's return will cause a slight shakeup in the secondary. Weddle will settle back in at his starting spot at free safety, with rookie Kevin Ellison staying at the strong spot. Steve Gregory, who along with Paul Oliver was rotating in when Weddle missed two games with a knee injury, will stay at the nickel role.
The Chargers hope DL Alfonso Boone (knee) can return after missing last week's game. Boone had become a regular part of the rotation up front.
WR Vincent Jackson
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson has been setting numerous milestones of late, and Tony Dorsett is up next on the all-time rushing list -- No. 7 at 12,739. Tomlinson trails him by 368 yards.
--OLB Shaun Phillips leads the Chargers with seven sacks, all of them coming during the team's eight-game winning streak. Phillips also is tied for the NFL-lead with six forced fumbles.
--QB Philip Rivers had his interception-free streak snapped last week in Dallas, after going 118 passes without a pick. Earlier this year, he went 143 passes without an interception. Twice this year, Rivers has gone four straight games without an interception.
--TE Antonio Gates has gone over 1,000 receiving yards for the second time in his career and for the first time since 2005.
GAME PLAN: Look for the Chargers to come out throwing the ball, declining to stick too long with the running attack against the NFL's third-best run defense. The Chargers' running game is gaining confidence, if not many yards. It gobbled up most of the seven minutes on a long drive Sunday, which helped the Chargers clinch the win over the Cowboys.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Chargers passing attack vs. Bengals secondary.
San Diego has lanky receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, while the Bengals don't have a starting cornerback reaching 6-foot. Jackson and Floyd both stand 6-5. And the Chargers have been gobbling up big chunks of late thanks to Philip Rivers' long chucks down field. Jackson and Floyd both have great body control in how they go up and snatch the passes at their highest point. The Bengals will try to counter with two 5-11 cornerbacks in Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph. This could be an area the Chargers exploit.
Chargers run defense vs. the Bengals' running game.
DL Alfonso Boone (knee) didn't work again Wednesday; the Chargers are hopeful he can play Sunday. But if Boone is absent, it only brings more reasons why the Bengals could be content pounding the Chargers with their running game, which features Cedric Benson and backup Larry Johnson. The Bengals have the sixth-best running game in the league, and the Chargers are ranked No. 21 in trying to stop it.
Chargers return game vs. Bengals special teams.
San Diego has Darren Sproles, while Cincinnati is mediocre against kicks and bad against punts. Sproles has been close to breaking a return for a touchdown and the Chargers are thinking this is the week he does it; he does have one on a punt return. With some linebackers getting back healthy, it should help the blocking on returns. The Bengals rank No. 15 on kick coverage and 26th on punts.
INJURY IMPACT: OLB Shawne Merriman (foot) didn't practice Wednesday but will play Sunday. His snaps, though, could be limited. ... OLB Shaun Phillips (ankle) didn't practice Wednesday but will play Sunday. ... C Nick Hardwick (ankle) won't play Sunday. ... DL Travis Johnson (groin) didn't work Wednesday but will be part of Sunday's rotation. ... DL Alfonso Boone (knee) didn't work and he could be a game-time decision. ... CB Quentin Jammer (toe) was rested Wednesday but he will play Sunday.