SAN DIEGO – This one’s for all the mediocrity.
More than three months after referee Ed Hochuli’s blown call allowed Denver to beat San Diego, the increasingly bitter rivals will play for the title of the awful AFC West in prime time tonight in the last regular-season game.
Will it be Jay Cutler’s bumbling Denver Broncos (8-7) – who had a three-game lead with three to play – who hold on and win the division wire to wire?
Or will Philip Rivers’ re-energized San Diego Chargers (7-8) win their third straight division title after being written off when they were 4-8?
It’s quite the story line for the finale in the mild, mild West, whose winner gets to host a playoff game against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.
The loser is sure to be reviled.
Denver, which managed to lose to Kansas City and Oakland, is trying to avoid a huge collapse. The Broncos could become the first team since division play began in 1967 to miss the playoffs after having a three-game lead with three weeks to go.
The Chargers, who’ve won three straight, don’t want to be remembered for monumental underachieving when they’re supposed to be one of the NFL’s most talented teams. They could become the first team to go from 4-8 to the playoffs, although they certainly expected a season with double-digit wins.
Put these teams’ records together and they’ve won just two more games than the Tennessee Titans, who have the NFL’s best record. Together, they’ve lost as many as the Detroit Lions.
Chargers fans who booed early and often this season are back on the bandwagon. It’s a hot ticket and the Chargers are expecting their biggest crowd of the season.
Still, there’s something less than appetizing about teams that are 8-7 and 7-8 in a “showdown” for a division title. These teams have explosive offenses, but their defenses are prone to pratfalls.
“It says the two teams at the top have been inconsistent, really,” said Rivers, who leads the NFL with a 104.0 passer rating and 32 TDs. “Denver has lost some tough games, as well as we have. We’ve won some big games. You hear about how not very good the AFC West is, but yet we’ve beat a lot of teams in some other conferences that are at the top of their divisions as well.”
The Chargers routed New England and the New York Jets, but they had to rally two weeks ago for their second one-point win over lowly Kansas City.