In many ways, Monday Night Football has lost its air of significance. John Madden's voice no longer offers analysis, Al Michaels has found a home on Sunday nights and, try as it might, ESPN lacks the iconic nature of a nationally televised game broadcast on a traditional network station.
Since NBC shifted to a flex schedule of Sunday night football, it seems as if the Monday night slot is usually outdone by this time of year. Matchups that may have looked good on paper at the beginning of the year (next week San Francisco plays Arizona) turn out to have no playoff implications at all.
So while the rest of the nation - unless they're in Florida adorned in a Tim Tebow t-shirt - may skip out on tonight's showdown between the San Diego Chargers (4-5) and the Denver Broncos (3-6), perhaps the biggest game of the season thus far for the Chargers happened to land on a Monday night.
Sure, the Broncos have looked miserable this season, epitomized by the thrashing doled out by the Oakland Raiders in week seven and subsequent dud dropped against San Francisco in London a week later, but Josh McDaniels' squad looked much improved last week in routing the first place Chiefs 49-29 following a bye week.
It is the Chargers coming off of a bye this week, and the extra time to get healthy and work out some special teams "kinks" with coordinator Steve Crosby needs to show from the start tonight.
A San Diego victory would move the Bolts to .500 for the first time since week four and would move the team into a tie for second in the AFC West with the Raiders after their 35-3 beat down at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday, although Oakland does hold the head-to-head tie breaker for now. It would also decisively knock out the Broncos from the division race and pull the Chargers within one game of the Chiefs.
As it stands right now, the Chargers are 0-2 in division play. Moving to 1-2 with three division games to play, including facing the Raiders and Chiefs at home, is an absolute necessity at this point.
What truly frightens me about this game is this: there's really no reason why the Chargers shouldn't beat the Broncos, which is precisely why I'm worried that they won't.
Say what you want about San Diego's propensity for late season runs, but this team does just about everything it can to give the game away each week, with special teams and the turnover battle serving as the usual culprits.
Denver's pass defense ranks 19th in the NFL coming into this game, giving up an average of 229.8 yards per game. Philip Rivers, meanwhile, ranks first in the NFL with 327.1 yards per game. With Malcolm Floyd back and healthy, the Chargers' signal caller must be licking his chops.
In fact, the Broncos only rank in the top five of one meaningful statistical category: passing yards per game (296.6). The San Diego secondary, meanwhile, ranks first by allowing a staunch 185.2 yards per game.
So why the concern? Because the Chargers have been statistically dominant this year and have a sub-.500 record to show for it. With this team, a big game from Rivers or a dominant defensive performance does not guarantee anything.
Should the Bolts win tonight's game? Absolutely. Do I think they will? Probably. But has this team earned any level of confidence going into a critical game? Not yet.
The weaknesses of this Chargers team have been well chronicled both on this blog and elsewhere throughout the season. Yet the parity within the AFC West and around the NFL as a whole have kept San Diego alive despite sleeping through the first half of the season. A win tonight would go a long way toward securing a fifth consecutive division crown.
Remarkably, the Bolts are still alive. Here's to hoping they are even more so this time tomorrow.
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