Winning Ways

The San Diego Chargers began to turn around their season with a big victory in Denver in the first week of October. A win over the Broncos this time will help them move closer to a more favorable seed in the playoffs.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made San Diego -9 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Monday's game, the over/under has been set at 47.5 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 83% of bets for this game have been placed on Denver -9 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

Needing to win their final two games to secure the No. 3 spot in the AFC playoffs and the chance to avoid New England until the conference championship game, the Chargers go for their fifth straight victory when they host the Broncos on Monday night.

San Diego also played well to end last season, finishing on a 10-game winning streak to post a 14-2 mark and earn the top seed in the AFC. The Chargers, though, lost 24-21 at home to the Patriots in their playoff opener, and that disappointing result - which led to the firing of coach Marty Schottenheimer - seemed to affect them in the early part of this season.

They opened with three losses in four games under Norv Turner, but a 41-3 win at Denver on Oct. 7 started their turnaround. San Diego has won eight of 10, including a 51-14 rout of Detroit last week that gave the Chargers (9-5) their third AFC West title in the last four seasons.

"Sometimes you just have to let the course of a season play out," LaDainian Tomlinson said Monday. "At some point it has to happen. That's just how it is. For us not to be doing it, it's happening now. It's just coming at a later time, you know what I mean? And for us, it's great, because if we can be hot going into the playoffs, Whoa, Nellie! Whoa, Nellie!"

Earning the No. 3 seed could possibly give the Chargers an easier road in the playoffs. If they clinch that spot and win their postseason opener, they'd visit No. 2 seed Indianapolis, not top-seeded New England, for the divisional round.

"If you continue to win you get to play the No. 1 seed in the championship game, if things go the way you think they will go," Tomlinson said.

San Diego, which beat Indianapolis 23-21 on Nov. 11, lost 38-14 at New England in Week 2 this season.

"You're going to have to play them if they continue to win, so it doesn't matter if you play them the week before or in the championship game," Tomlinson said about the Patriots. "You've got to earn the right to play them if they continue to win."

Tomlinson was the league MVP last season when he had an NFL-record 31 touchdowns and 186 points, and won his first rushing title with 1,815 yards. Like the team, he started off slow this year, but he's carried the Chargers during their four-game win streak.

Tomlinson's averaging 129.0 rushing yards over that span, running for five TDS and catching one. He's battling Pittsburgh's Willie Parker and Minnesota rookie Adrian Peterson for the rushing title.

"We'd like to say we're definitely a contender. We've got to prove it," said Tomlinson, who rushed for 116 yards and two TDs in the first two quarters last Sunday but sat out the second half with a tweaked hamstring as San Diego held a 34-7 lead at halftime.

"When you get to the playoffs, it's totally different. You've got more pressure on you and also less room for error, and so you've really got to take advantage of your opportunities. When we get there, that's one thing we're going to talk about."

Tomlinson, one of eight Chargers selected to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday, said he did some running Monday and the hamstring is fine.

"I know what L.T. wants to do," Turner told the team's official Web site. "He wants to be at his best when we start playing in the postseason."

Denver, meanwhile, won't be participating in the playoffs.

The Broncos (6-8) were eliminated from postseason contention after they lost 31-13 at Houston last Thursday and San Diego and Cleveland both won Sunday.

"It is difficult, but that's life, too," safety John Lynch said. "You're not always on top. The old saying that adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it, we've talked a lot about that. I think you can see a lot about individuals and a team how they respond to it."

The Broncos went 9-7 in 2006 to miss the postseason for the first time in four years. They'll now watch the playoffs from home in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2001-02.

Denver, though, still has something to play for. Not only do the Broncos want to show they can beat the Chargers following October's blowout, they're trying to avoid their first losing season since going 6-10 in 1999 after winning back-to-back Super Bowls.

"Your career is based on how you perform and if you don't perform, it'll show on tape and guys will know what type of heart you have," said cornerback Champ Bailey, who earned his eighth straight Pro Bowl nod Tuesday.

"We're aware of how (the Chargers) beat us and I know they're going to think that they could do it again. So, we've got to go out and play our game. We're capable of playing well. We've just got to do it."

The Broncos, however, have been inconsistent all season. They opened with consecutive victories before losing five of their next six, rebounded with a pair of wins to get back to .500, but have dropped three of four heading into this game.

"One week it's there; the next week it's not, and you've got to be consistent and do the little things well all the time," Lynch told the Broncos' official Web site. "You can't do them some of the time or else you get exposed in this league."

San Diego has won three straight over Denver for the first time since taking the teams' final meeting in 1981 and sweeping the season series in 1982. The Chargers haven't won four in a row over the Broncos since 1967-68.

By: Staff Writers - Email Us

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