SAN DIEGO -- Like all of the teams sitting at 8-7 in the AFC, the San Diego Chargers need a little help to reach the postseason for the first time since 2009.
Along with defeating the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, both Baltimore and Miami have to lose in order for San Diego to earn the final AFC wild-card berth.
“We can’t control whether or not we make the postseason at this point,” tight end Antonio Gates said. “All we can do is control whether or not we win, and do the things we need to do to execute. And hopefully with a little help, we’ll get an opportunity to play in the postseason.”
Because those teams play in earlier games, San Diego players should know the results before they take the field at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday afternoon. But whether or not the Chargers have a chance to make the playoffs, the team remains focused on finishing 9-7. With a victory, San Diego would finish the season winning five of its last six games, and four straight.
“At the end of the day, we have to go handle our business regardless of what happens in the games before us,” Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano said.
Here are five keys for the Chargers as they take on the Chiefs.
Don’t get complacent: With Kansas City already locked in as the No. 5 seed, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid likely will rest players, including running back Jamaal Charles and quarterback Alex Smith. But backup running back Knile Davis and quarterback Chase Daniel are no slouches. The Chargers have to make sure they play with their best effort and don’t anticipate a dip in play from Kansas City once the backups hit the field.
Protect Rivers: Even though one of Kansas City’s best pass-rushers in Tamba Hali (knee) is not playing, the Chiefs still do a good job of getting after the quarterback with 44 sacks on the season. So it will be important for San Diego's offensive line to have good communication and keep Philip Rivers clean.
Watch out for hidden yards: The Chiefs do a nice job on special teams, both in the return game and coverage units. Dexter McCluster was voted to the Pro Bowl as a returner, and has two touchdowns on punt returns this season. Quintin Demps also has a kick return for a score. And punter Dustin Colquitt has 35 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. San Diego’s coverage units have to tackle, and the Chargers need an explosive play in the return game to help control field position.
Keep feeding Mathews: He’s been limited during practice this past week with an ankle injury, but Ryan Mathews is playing at a high level right now. He leads the league with 97 carries since Week 13. San Diego is 5-0 this year when Mathews has at least 20 carries, and 5-1 when he scores a rushing touchdown. Keep feeding him.
Bring the noise: San Diego coach Mike McCoy went out of his way in asking for Chargers fans to show up on Sunday, and he’s right. Only one time did it feel like San Diego had a home-field advantage this year, when the New York Giants and Eli Manning came to town. The Chargers need that type of energy from fans every home game.