2013 NFL Grades, Week 15: Chargers (kind of) back in AFC race

Welcome to the playoff race, San Diego! At 7-7, the Chargers are still alive. They're not exactly in a good spot, per se, because 9-7 isn't a lock to get them into the playoffs as a wild card. For the moment, though, you have to appreciate what they did Thursday by going into Denver and handling Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

A 27-20 victory might not appear dominant, but the Chargers ended the conversation of Manning beating Tom Brady's season touchdown record early, pressuring the quarterback (one sack, several big hits) and keeping Manning's mitts off the ball by owning the time of possession 38:49 to 21:11.

As a result they walked out with a win that keeps them alive for the postseason. They need to win out and get to 9-7 to really have a chance, but that only involves beating the Raiders and Chiefs, something they've already done this year.

They also need help from elsewhere though. The Ravens and Dolphins -- both already at 7-6 -- have to falter. Ideally San Diego would have them both fall to 8-8, but that's asking a lot. Their respective conference records are better than San Diego and in the event of a three-way tie that's where things will get split.

So San Diego needs help. That's the bad news. It's always easier controlling your own destiny. The good news is San Diego still has a shot after its win on Thursday. That's much, much more than anyone expected out of them this season. It's a tremendous credit to Mike McCoy, Philip Rivers and everyone involved.

1) Wes Welker is the new Jacob Tamme. Peyton once said that Tamme is the "fulcrum" of what he does on offense. Maybe we should add that label to Welker now, because Tamme didn't step in as his backup like many expected. Instead Andre Caldwell got the nod and managed to murder millions of fantasy football seasons while catching six passes, two for touchdowns. In real-life football, the Broncos looked incredibly flat.

2) Hello, narrative. Once again cold weather descended on a game involving Manning and once again his team wasn't great. I don't actually believe he can't play in the cold weather, but I do believe cold weather makes life more difficult. Don't expect anyone to ease back on the narrative throttle after this outing though.

3) The Broncos' defense is a major concern. Champ Bailey and Derek Wolfe were out in preparation for the playoffs (we think ...) and San Diego has a very good offense. But they shouldn't be getting carved up like that this late in the year. Von Miller has to find some moments to make a monster play and put Rivers on his back late.

4) Huge win by the Bolts for the Patriots, Bengals and Chiefs. Cincy at 9-4 suddenly has an eye on one of the top two seeds, while New England's eyes should be lit up looking for the top spot if they can beat the Dolphins in Miami on Sunday. (They hold the tiebreaker over Denver.) The Chiefs are a win at home against Oakland away from tying the Broncos (with the tiebreaker going to Denver) and hoping the Broncos can choke away another win in order to let KC grab one of the top AFC seeds instead of coming in as a wild card. The AFC playoff race remains very much in flux.

5) Good on Mike McCoy and what San Diego has done this year in the division -- they handed the first home losses to the Chiefs and Broncos this year.

6) Keenan Allen didn't put up big numbers in the second half Thursday and ended up with a small statline, the two touchdowns not included.

7) It's the first time in 18 games that the Broncos have been held under 25 points. Pretty incredible.

8) Everything Rivers brought to the postgame interview on NFL Network was beyond amazing.

A Massive win for the Chargers to keep their season alive. The defense limited Peyton. Keenan Allen, Philip Rivers and Ryan Mathews/Danny Woodhead did enough on offense to help them put up more points than the Broncos.
D- Ew. That was not a pretty game for the Broncos. The running game didn't exist and Manning couldn't find Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. The cold weather narrative persists.
CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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