It will be a watered-down version of the San Diego Chargers that hosts the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

The Chargers (12-3) have already clinched a playoff spot and will be searching for opportunities to rest some regulars against the hapless Washington Redskins (4-11) in the meaningless contest.

The Chargers have clinched a playoff bye so coach Norv Turner has to be mindful that their next game is two weeks away. Remaining on a normal schedule is key because you don’t want players to get rusty. Yet you also want them to be healthy for a playoff run.

LaDainian Tomlinson has been plagued by injuries the past two postseasons and the Chargers have no chance of a Super Bowl run if quarterback Philip Rivers were to get hurt. Rivers is now one of the top 10 players (regardless of position) in the NFL and the key ingredient to any postseason run by the franchise that will soon be playing in the City of Industry.

I’m betting that linebacker Shawne Merriman (foot)  and safety Eric Weddle (knee) will both be spectators and that a large number of starters get ample time to rest. But with a 45-man roster — this isn’t preseason when 80 players are available — there will certainly be some starters playing into the fourth quarter.

The trick is getting out of the game healthy. Merriman has been dealing with injuries all year long with his most ferocious takedown of the season coming when he (allegedly) tossed lifetime loser Tila Tequila to the ground (nice company you keep, Shawne). A Chargers’ postseason run would be best served by a healthy Merriman wreaking havoc like he did in 2006 when he was one of the best defensive players in the NFL.

Keeping tight end Antonio Gates healthy is another key. You can tell me Tony Gonzalez or Jason Witten is the best tight end in the NFL if you want but I will never agree with you. I think Gates is the best in the NFL and he’s had a monster year this season now that he’s overcome his toe injury from two years ago.

As for the Redskins, there’s nothing to watch. Coach Jim Zorn is coaching his final game with the team (the sun coming up Monday has the same likelihood of occurring as Zorn being fired) and the rumor mill has owner Daniel Snyder ready to give former Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan a truck full of money to take over as coach.

If Shanahan is smart, he’ll say no to Snyder no matter how ridiculous the financial offer — call Marty Schottenheimer, Mike, so he can clue you in — and seek out a better franchise. But either way, the Redskins are going nowhere and destined to be an NFC East bottom-dweller for years to come.

Anyway, back to the Chargers. This is a franchise much more known for losing than anything else under the Dean Spanos reign. But this is also their time to make a Super Bowl run.

The Chargers have eliminated the Indianapolis Colts in each of the past two postseasons and aren’t the least bit afraid of the big bad Colts. They are as good a bet as any AFC team to reach the Super Bowl.

Of course, they also have Turner as coach and he’s not known as a big-game coach. So can a talented roster overcome having an average head coach? We’ll find out over the next month. 

But first things first — there’s a game Sunday and a lot of Chargers need some rest. So Billy Volek, get your right arm ready because your services are actually needed.

The Chargers can’t afford to have Rivers get hurt. That is goal No. 1 in Sunday’s finale against the Redskins.

Tomlinson out for the playoffs? Yeah, we’ve seen that before. Merriman out for the postseason? Ah, no big loss. Larry English is ready to replace the Tequila shot maker. But Rivers on the sideline would be a playoff-killer.

So Norv, pull the QB after one quarter. Let him get some work and out of the game injury-free. He’s your biggest key to making a Super Bowl run.


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