But the Cincinnati Bengals are better than many expected and now this game has plenty of meaning, even as much as the AFC's No. 2 seed.
"It is real big," linebacker Stephen Cooper said of Sunday's game. "We know Cincinnati is playing at a high level. But as a defense we know we need to go out there and stop the run. Cedric Benson is one of the better backs in the league. We'll go out and play fast, physical and make plays."
The Chargers are making a tradition out of playing well in December. They will be looking for their 17th straight win in December, and the 11th consecutive December win under coach Norv Turner.
"I don't think there is any magic to it," Vincent Jackson said. "We've just been consistent; we've taken care of the ball. We've played well in all three phases."
With all these victories -- and the team getting healthy again -- the Chargers are suddenly back in the Super Bowl talk. That's a long way from the season's second month, when they sat at 2-3 and people were barking for Turner's hide.
Now there is talk of an extension and how well Turner kept the team together during a difficult start.
"I think we've got a very good football team, we've got good players, we've got playmakers that are capable of making plays," Turner said. "We've got great leadership on our football team, they're very focused on what we need to get done, so that helps you win games on a weekly basis."
Numerous Chargers said it's a team attitude which starts at the top with stars like Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson and trickles down from there.
"Nobody cares about the accolades, no one cares about who gets the stats," Jacques Cesaire said. "We are just going out and playing football and we are all banding together."
Tomlinson said the team didn't listen to its detractors early in the year and now is getting those praising them at arm's length.
"We really don't worry about it," he said. "We kind of put our blinders on and keep going forward. We have a great ability to focus on the next opponent and really know what we have to do to win that game. We don't really care if anybody else notices that we are winning. We just keep going."
The Chargers got here by dominating their division -- 5-1 -- and winning all three of their games against NFC East foes. They have one remaining in Washington, but they decline to peak too far ahead.
"We just keep those blinders on and keep going," Rivers said.
LINEUP WATCH: S Eric Weddle should return to the starting lineup after missing two games with a knee injury. Weddle was playing well before he got hurt and his return will help a secondary which has gotten better as the season has progressed. With Weddle back, Paul Oliver will return to a backup role with Steve Gregory staying as the nickel back.
UNDER THE RADAR: The Chargers have numerous offensive weapons, so it's hard to fault defenses for not paying close attention to tight end Kris Wilson. But Wilson is having more passes thrown his way of late. He was targeted twice Sunday and had one reception for 21 yards.
--WR Vincent Jackson had his fifth 100-yard receiving game of the season Sunday, but it was his first in six games.
--OLB Shawne Merriman (foot) continues to have his playing time compromised with his injury.
--DE Alfonso Boone (knee) could return to practice this week; his status for Sunday is undetermined.
--DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo (ankle) was put on IR last week. He's the Chargers' third defensive lineman to land on IR this year.
--C Nick Hardwick (ankle) could try to resume practicing this week. He has been out since the season opener.