TE Antonio Gates (Harry How/Getty)
The Chargers welcome the Broncos on Monday night, and they do so wearing the AFC West crown. San Diego clinched it Sunday with a 51-14 victory over the Lions.
For the second straight year and third time in four seasons the Chargers have won the division and are headed to the playoffs.
"I have such a great feeling inside about what our guys have done," coach Norv Turner said. "In coaching, that's the ultimate."
Many thought the Chargers made the ultimate mistake in replacing Marty Schottenheimer with Turner. Turner had been a two-time loser at previous head coaching stints and seemed to be a reach.
But the Chargers shook off a 1-3 start and amazingly clinched a division title with two weeks left in the season. They did it by winning eight of their next 10 games after that shaky beginning.
"I just think we have grown as a team," tight end Antonio Gates said. "The first couple of months we were learning each other. I think right now, it's like we build, we build, and now we're playing out best football around this time where we need it the most, going into the postseason."
The Chargers could enter the playoffs as the AFC's No. 3 seed if they sweep their final two games, running their winning streak to six. If they did that, and then won their first playoff game, they would travel to Indianapolis instead of New England.
But first they needed to win the title -- mark that off the check list.
"It's huge, but we've been here before," linebacker Shaun Phillips said. "We have a bigger goal that we're trying to achieve."
That would be a playoff victory, something the Chargers haven't accomplished since beating the Steelers in the 1994 AFC Championship Game in advancing to their lone Super Bowl.
Since, the Chargers have dropped all four postseason games.
What's left to ponder is how the Chargers approach their last two contests. Do they rest their starters and risk dropping the No. 3 seed? Or go all try and keep their hot hand?
"All those things will take care of themselves," linebacker Matt Wilhelm said. "I know we are going into the postseason as one of the healthiest teams in football and how we do that is up to the coaches."
Said Turner: "There is going to be a lot of conversation about that. I've never gone into a game where we weren't trying to win. If we're in jeopardy with a play and there's someone that's got something, we're going to make the good decisions."
One of those decisions might involve Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman. He skipped Sunday's game with a knee injury and will likely sit out Monday as well. There's an outside chance he could play, but the Chargers will likely err on the side of caution.
Quarterback Philip Rivers was also nursing a sore knee Sunday, but he let Billy Volek take over late in the third quarter. Even LaDainian Tomlinson shut it down in the second half with the Chargers enjoying such a laugher at the expense of the Lions.
--RB Darren Sproles made the most of his audition Sunday while getting extended playing time for the first time this season. He rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
--Backup RB Michael Turner would have received more work against the Chargers after the team sat RB LaDainian Tomlinson in the second half of their rout of the Lions, but Turner is nursing a sore shoulder.
--DE Luis Castillo (ankle) had a shot at playing Sunday, but instead sat. He has been out since Nov. 4.
--CB Antonio Cromartie recorded his 10th interception, which sets the team's single-season mark. Charlie McNeil's mark of nine interceptions had stood since 1961.
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson didn't play in the second half of the Lions game but still rushed for 116 yards. That was the first time in team history the Chargers had two 100-yard rushers in the same game.