By Dave Thomas
With the San Diego Chargers all but assured of not capturing the AFC West title for the third year in a row, what exactly do the Bolts play for over the next six Sundays?
While an AFC wild card spot is certainly not out of the question, reality is starting to set in for both the Bolts and their fans that this team is mediocre at best. After a 3-1 start to the season, San Diego has dropped five of its last six games, sitting at 4-6 as it prepares to host the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday afternoon.
The typical cliches of playing for pride, teammates and your fans, are those good enough to push the Chargers the next six weekends?
With their loss in Denver this past Sunday, the Chargers fell to 3-2 in the AFC West Division. Even though that is a game over .500 in the division, it is important to remember that the three wins are over Kansas City (twice) and Oakland, two of the worst teams in the NFL this season.
Over the next three weekends, the Chargers face the 8-2 Ravens, 5-5 Bengals, and 6-4 Steelers (on the road). Yes, the good mathematician will tell you that those three teams are a combined 19-11, so there are no easy games during that three-week stretch.
While the thought of still making the AFC playoffs should be incentive enough for the Chargers, jobs may very well be on the line over this final stretch of games, meaning even some of the bigger names may be playing for a spot on next season’s squad.
Who Returns For The Bolts In 2013?
Even though QB Philip Rivers is likely not playing for his 2013 job with the Chargers, continued inconsistency and turnovers could lead to Rivers getting some competition in camp next summer. Although backup QB Charlie Whitehurst is not likely to provide that competition, you could very well see the Bolts go out and get a tested free agent to battle Rivers for the starting job next year.
The offensive line will get many looks over the next six weeks, especially after allowing Rivers to be hurried and sacked time and time again last Sunday in Denver.
Starting running back Ryan Mathews has yet to have that breakout season with the Bolts, so do not be surprised if both Jackie Battle and Ronnie Brown get some more time down the stretch to see if one or both deserve a shot to be a starter next season.
Finally, the secondary (other than Eric Weddle) could see substantial changes come next season, with both Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason perhaps playing their final seasons in blue and gold.
Yes, the playoffs are still an outside chance given the parity in the NFL this season, but many Charger fans have likely resigned themselves to the fact that playing in the postseason is but a pipe dream at this point.
If it is not a playoff spot, what exactly will the Chargers play for over these final six games?
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Dave Thomas is a freelance writer covering all things Chargers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.