The San Diego Chargers have never led the AFC West this season and still won’t be leading it if they beat the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night.

But the Chargers (7-6) do all but clinch another division title with a victory over the inconsistent 49ers.

A Chargers’ victory puts big-time pressure on the Kansas City Chiefs, a team San Diego dismantled just four days earlier. The Chiefs (8-5) would then spend the next three days knowing they have to beat the St. Louis Rams on the road to remain in first place.

The Chiefs aren’t used to such pressure. Kansas City hasn’t played meaningful December football games since the 2006 season while the Chargers are used to digging themselves out of self-induced holes during the NFL’s most pivotal month.

Remember, the young and up-and-coming Chiefs are a year ahead of schedule. I had them competing with the Chargers for the AFC West crown in 2011, not 2010.

Kansas City has had a terrific season and is a team on the rise. But the Chiefs also are victims of very poor timing.

The emergency appendectomy that quarterback Matt Cassel underwent Dec. 8 couldn’t have come at a worse time. Cassel was in the midst of a surprisingly good season and the Chiefs got stuck using Brody Croyle against the Chargers last week in a game in which they could have ended San Diego’s season with a victory.

Perhaps you heard about backup quarterback Brody Croyle going 7-for-17 passing for 40 yards. The Chiefs mustered all of 67 yards of total offense during a 31-0 shellacking.

Repeat – 67 yards for an entire game. Philadelphia Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson often gets more than on that on a single play.

The 49ers’ game is the start of a gift schedule for the Chargers. San Diego’s final three opponents are a combined 10-29 with San Francisco (5-8) representing the high-water mark. The Chargers visit the Cincinnati Bengals (2-11) on Dec. 26 and the Denver Broncos (3-10) on Jan. 2.

The Chiefs are 6-0 at home so it’s not like Kansas City can’t still win the division. They host the Tennessee Titans on Dec. 26 and the Oakland Raiders on Jan. 2.

But in pro football, we see it happen all the time: A team that isn’t used to the pressure of playoff-type football succumbs when everything is on the line.

And if the Chiefs don’t have a fully healthy Cassel playing in those final two home games in frigid Kansas City weather, it isn’t hard to predict what will occur.

The San Diego Chargers will sneak out with another AFC West title. All Philip Rivers and the Chargers need to do is beat the 49ers on Thursday night and you’ll have your answer on which AFC West team will be playing in January’s playoffs.

  1. Michelle says:

    That was a ugly match last night, what was up with the New york giants ? All credit to Vick but really, the Giants dropped that more than the Birds won it

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