The Los Angeles Chargers are headed to the playoffs. They just don’t know their destination yet.
Will they be a wild card and the No. 5 seed in the AFC? Or will they shoot up to the No. 1 seed and gain a first-round bye and home-field advantage through the conference playoffs that go with it?
It all depends on how the Chargers fare Sunday against the Denver Broncos and the outcome of the Kansas City-Oakland Raiders game. The Chargers need to win and have the Chiefs lose to become the top seed. Otherwise, Los Angeles will play in the first round.
“We have to root for the Raiders, it’s the nature of this business,” Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said with a laugh. “They are our comrades.”
But Lynn said he won’t be peeking for updates of what’s going on at Arrowhead Stadium. He said the focus is the Broncos, a team that has beaten Lynn twice in the three meetings he has been with the Chargers.
“What do I care about what the Raiders are doing when we’re trying to beat the Broncos?” Lynn said. “Although I’d love to see the Raiders play their best game of the year and win.” .
The Chargers will be trying to recover from a loss last week at home to the Baltimore Ravens that cost them a chance to move to the top of the AFC standings. The Ravens stymied the Chargers, holding their offense to season lows in yards and points.
“We’ve lost before and bounced back and we’re looking to do the same thing,” Lynn said. “This team is good at hitting the reset button.”
If playoff seeding isn’t enough motivation, figuring out how to solve Denver is. The Broncos have won the past five meetings between the teams in Denver.
“[Denver] beat us the first time when we kind of fell apart at the end, but give them credit,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. “We want to win the last game and regroup and go from there. We’re just going to worry about us. Let’s just focus on us and get back playing the way we played most this year.”
“This division has always had great edge rushers,” Rivers said. “It’s been a tough group with many sacks and you have to have a plan for those guys. If you can’t get the ball off, it doesn’t matter what you draw up on the back end. Our guys have always rose to the challenge.”
Rivers will have a little extra help against the Broncos with Chargers running back Austin Ekeler looking like he’ll return after missing two games with a neck injury.
“It’s just getting his timing back, running, and catching the ball, stuff like that,” Lynn said.
The Broncos have no shot at the playoffs and they’ll be playing without injured Pro Bowl running back Phillip Lindsay, who suffered a wrist injury in Denver’s loss to Oakland on Monday night. Lindsay ranked second in the AFC with 1,037 rushing yards.
“We’re going into this game no different than any other game,” Lynn said. “We’re not worrying about resting people. We’re trying to win the game.”
The Broncos will miss Lindsay, one of the bright spots in a disappointing season for the team. The wrist injury will require surgery.
“To go out that way is not good for him, but it doesn’t take from the year he’s had,” Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said. “He’s had a great year, he was a great find for this football team and moving forward he’s going to be a great player for this franchise. He wants to finish it and go to the Pro Bowl, but he can’t because of the injury. We all know what he did this year.”
Rookie Royce Freeman, who has battled an ankle injury, will start in Lindsay’s place.
Freeman and his teammates aren’t interested in spoiling things for the Chargers.
“I don’t think we should focus on that,” Freeman said. “I think we should focus on what we can do as the Broncos — competing and playing like we should.”
The Broncos’ defense ranks 23rd in net yards per game (371.1), 21st in net rushing yards per game (119.8) and 22nd in net passing yards per game (251.3). The Chargers may be able to beat the Broncos’ pass rush with quick, short passes.
“This week, focusing not on the whole thing, but this week we’ve got to score points,” Broncos quarterback Case Keenum said. “This is a very talented offense and we’ve got to stay on the field. Put together some drives, because that’s going to be really key, to score more than 19 points. We need to put some more points on the board.”
It might not be so easy for Keenum to find success against L.A.’s secondary. The Chargers allow opponents 223.9 yards passing, which ranks seventh in the NFL.
“Nobody in this building likes losing, nobody in this city likes losing,” Keenum said. “It’s a fact, and nobody more than me. I hate it.
“To go out on a high note, to beat a team going into the playoffs, maybe to show some other teams how to beat them. We’ve got a great opportunity here, with a great opponent, and it’d be a great way to end the year.”