Philip Rivers is an Oakland Raiders fan this week, sort of.
Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers can win the AFC West and secure home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs by beating Denver and having the Raiders defeat Kansas City on Sunday.
The Chargers can also take the division title, a first-round bye and home field with a tie against the Broncos and a Chiefs loss.
“I’m rooting for us on Sunday and whatever happens happens,” Rivers said Wednesday. “I don’t know that my cheering is going to matter.”
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Those scenarios are rendered moot if the Chargers (11-4) don’t hold up their end, so the team’s focus is directed internally and not on an assist from their nemesis in silver and black.
A loss by Los Angeles or a Kansas City win would see the Chargers finish as the No. 5 seed in the AFC, likely playing at the AFC North winner in the wild-card round next weekend.
“Yeah, I’d love to see the Raiders play their best game of the year and win, but we can’t control that,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “We got this Denver team that since I’ve been here we’re 1-2 against so we’re looking to get even there. We have some improvement to do this week to get there.”
The Chargers need help, in part, because of their 23-22 loss to the Broncos at home on Nov. 18. That defeat was partially self-inflicted, with the defense allowing pass plays of 38 and 30 yards to set up Brandon McManus’ 34-yard field goal as time expired.
The offense had an opportunity to run out the clock in Denver territory, but Rivers was forced to scramble for a loss of 4 yards and threw away a third-down pass instead of keeping the clock running.
Rivers said managing those late-game situations become even more important going into the playoffs.
“The consequences go up,” Rivers said. “A possession in the fourth quarter with eight minutes left is a little different than the second quarter, right? Just all those things are a little more critical in the fourth quarter of a one-score game and what’s going to be the fourth quarter of a postseason game here real soon.”
The Broncos (6-9) also sacked Rivers three times in that game, and improving their pass protection is a priority for the Chargers after allowing four sacks in their 22-10 loss to Baltimore on Saturday.
The Ravens had success rushing with four defenders in that game, and the Broncos’ edge rush combination of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb is even more formidable, Lynn said. Chubb has 12 sacks and has a chance to pass the rookie record of 14½ set in 1999 by Jevon Kearse. Miller has 14½ sacks, his fifth consecutive season with double-digit sacks.
“One of the best defensive players in the game,” Lynn said of Miller. “And Chubb’s not bad either. That combination right there, I do believe that’s the strength of their defense is that pass rush, and so we’re going to have to find a way to contain those two, for sure.”
Lynn felt the offensive line was unfairly criticized for its performance against Baltimore, saying the tight ends and running backs also contribute to protections.
There are other factors, he added, from the receivers running routes and creating separation to Rivers getting rid of the ball in certain situations.
Addressing pass protection and other issues will help keep the Chargers focused on what happens against Denver, Rivers said.
“We know we get a game the following weekend,” Rivers said. “Where, who knows, or how it all shakes out. But let’s focus on us and get back playing the way we’ve played most of this year. Offensively, we’ve got plenty of things to work on this week both in practice and hopefully let that transfer to playing better on Sunday.”
And if the Raiders come through, all the better for the Chargers.
“It is weird to be rooting for the Raiders,” Lynn said. “But that’s the nature of this business, you know.”
NOTES: RB Austin Ekeler practiced Wednesday. Lynn expects Ekeler to play after missing the past two games because of a neck injury and concussion.