Bolts Notebook: Talking Turkey

OT Jeromey Clary (USA TODAY Sports)

San Diego's comeback in KC sparked new playoff hopes, but do the Chargers have a real shot at competing for the postseason? What are the key matchups in this week's must-win game against the Bengals? And which players have a shot at statistically significant seasons? We answer these questions and more in this Bolts Notebook.

Picturing the Playoffs

The Chargers stayed relevant in the playoff picture for at least another week with Sunday's win in Kansas City. There are six teams tied for the second wildcard spot with 5-6 records (the Titans, Dolphins, Jets, Steelers, Ravens and Chargers).

The bad news is two of those teams (the Titans and Dolphins) hold head-to-head tiebreakers over San Diego. The good news is this group will be trimmed to four (at the most) by the end of this week's games, as the Dolphins play the Jets and the Steelers face the Ravens.

Also, crazy as it may sound, the Chiefs are not guaranteed a playoff spot just yet, especially if they fall at home this week to the 9-2 Denver Broncos. A Chargers win and a Chiefs loss would trim Kansas City's lead to three games with four to play. But the Chargers and Chiefs meet again in the season finale in San Diego, meaning the Chargers would have to make up just two games between Weeks 14-16.

In those three weeks the Chiefs play at Washington, at Oakland and versus Indianapolis. It is well documented that the Chiefs have feasted on backup QBs this season while struggling against superior signal callers. So with games left against Peyton Manning, Robert Griffin, Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers, it is still possible the wheels could fall off in Kansas City.

Earning their Stripes

San Diego's offense exploded in Kansas City after the Chiefs' top two pass rushers (Tamba Hali and Justin Houston) left the game with injuries. The good news is this week's opponent is already without its top pass rusher. Geno Atkins, the top interior pass rusher in the game today, went on injured-reserve the first week of November with a torn ACL. He would have been a matchup nightmare for the Bolts, as Rivers struggles against pressure up the middle.

Now San Diego's protection schemes can focus on DEs Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry, who have combined for 12.5 sacks this season, with 5.5 of those sacks coming in the last three games (Atkins was injured three games ago).

On the other side of the ball, San Diego's defense has to worry about slowing WR A.J. Green, who has already eclipsed 1,000 yards this year with five games to go. If Donnie Avery can go off for 91 yards and a score against San Diego's secondary, there is no telling how much damage Green can do.

The good news is the Green-Andy Dalton connection is not as unstoppable as the stats seem on the surface, as Green has caught just 54 percent of the passes thrown his way this season (67 of 124).

It also helps greatly that the game is in So Cal. Dalton has better than a two-to-one TD-to-INT ratio at home (11 to five) but is just 50-50 on the road (10 TDs, 10 INTs).

Seeking Gaudy Stats

If Rivers can average 324 yards per game over the next five weeks, he will exceed 5,000 yards passing for the first time in his career. If he tops 341 yards per game, he will break Dan Marino's single-season passing record. Those seem to be unlikely numbers, but Rivers has thrown for 341 yards or more in five games this season.

Ryan Mathews needs to average just 56 yards per game to top the 1,000-yard barrier for the second time in his career. Keenan Allen is even closer, needing just 53 yards per game to top 1,000 yards in his rookie season. Not bad for a receiver who started training camp No. 6 in the rotation behind Danario Alexander, Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown, Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem.

Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead are tied for the team lead with 59 receptions. If Gates averages 4.2 catches per game over the next five weeks, he will finish with 80 receptions for the first time since 2005. So while Ladarius Green is a fast-rising star, it is too early to let him cut into Gates' snaps.

Reggie Walker and Thomas Keiser lead the team with four sacks apiece. Walker did not join the team until after training camp, while Keiser has been on the roster for just the last seven games. If you project Keiser's seven-game numbers over 16 games you get a nine-sack season.



What do you expect from the Bolts-Bengals game? Discuss in the message boards.



Michael Lombardo is 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 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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