DENVER – As a man who has played in 249 NFL regular-season games, David Binn(notes) has seen his share of false momentum swings and sifted through scores of crackpot theories as to why certain events impact a team's collective psyche.
So I was surprised last Sunday how receptive the Chargers' longtime long snapper was to engaging in a speculative conversation about why his team seems to start out each season with the energy of 53 guys who just finished their Thanksgiving dinners before snapping out of it when they reach the meat of their schedule.
Standing next to a food spread outside the visitors' locker room at Invesco Field following the Chargers' 32-3 thrashing of the Broncos, a victory that put his 7-3 team back in control of the AFC West, Binn said he and his teammates remained strangely calm after a 2-3 start left San Diego 3½ games out of the division lead.
"Everyone was doubting us from the outside, and understandably, but our vibe was, 'Just don't even doubt yourself,' " Binn said. "We'd struggled in '07 and '08 and pulled out of it, and that's obviously not the ideal way to go about doing it – but it helped to know that the precedent was there. And when you think about it, that's experience. Guys have been through it before, so we don't panic."
Left unspoken was that the Broncos are panicking. They're 6-4, and they're carrying themselves like they're 2-8, with a coach who's prone to pregame trash-talking and players getting in one another's faces on the sidelines and no realistic sense that they can regain their collective confidence.
For the Chargers, who waited until they were 4-8 last season before mounting an unlikely rally (combined with a Broncos collapse) toward a third consecutive AFC West title, things couldn't be sunnier if they lived in the continental United States' most consistently luminous region. (Oh, wait – they do.)
As they battle the Patriots (7-3) and Bengals (7-3) for the No. 2 playoff seed and the first-round bye that comes with it, the Chargers are well-positioned to continue their run. After hosting the Chiefs this Sunday, San Diego has road games at Cleveland and Dallas before returning home to face the Bengals. The Chargers close out the regular season with games at Tennessee and against Washington at home.
Even if San Diego can't secure the No. 2 seed, coach Norv Turner's team is a potential force in the playoffs for two reasons: First, quarterback Philip Rivers(notes) is a flat-out star, his emerging brilliance obscured by the trio of passers (Brett Favre(notes), Peyton Manning(notes) and his Chargers predecessor, Drew Brees(notes)) who are waging a spirited MVP race. And second, if there's one team that knows the 10-0 Colts are vulnerable and won't shudder at the prospect of facing them in Indy come January, it's a San Diego squad that has eliminated them from each of the past two postseasons.
That doesn't guarantee that the Chargers will prevail a third time, or that Turner will be bold enough to prance around Lucas Oil Stadium saying "I own you" to Indy's linebackers. But in San Diego's locker room, as the team's long-snapper so eloquently suggests, it won't hurt to know that the precedent exists.
As we unveil this week's list of 32 other inquiries to ponder, you'll notice that the Chargers, like George and Weezie Jefferson, are movin' on up :
1. New Orleans Saints: If thousands of fans are greeting the team at the airport after regular-season victories, can you imagine how insane the scene will be if they return from South Florida as Super Bowl champs?
4. New England Patriots: Did Rex (I Never Came Here to Kiss Bill Belichick's Rings) Ryan actually say he felt "disrespected" by the New England coach's typical run-up-the-score antics with a straight face?
7. Cincinnati Bengals: Did Carson Palmer(notes) really take an 18-yard sack on third-and-goal from the 1 against the Raiders – and after Shayne Graham(notes) missed the ensuing field goal, how badly did Marvin Lewis wish he had that call back?
9. Pittsburgh Steelers: If Ben Roethlisberger(notes) isn't good to go Sunday night, won't it be cool to get our first glimpse of what Dennis Dixon can do as an NFL quarterback?
12. Baltimore Ravens: Is copying the Terrible Towel the best this team's marketing department could do – and wouldn't it have been cooler to come up with a more original prop for Sunday night's showdown with the Steelers?
16. Tennessee Titans: If Vince Young continues to improve, and the Titans continue to win, would anyone be happy about facing this team in the playoffs?
17. Denver Broncos: Has anyone pondered the possibility that the Titans and Broncos secretly switched places before the season, then slipped back to their rightful spots after six games?
18. Houston Texans: Could Gary Kubiak have been any more conservative at the end of Monday night's game – and could that Matt Schaub(notes) kneel-down (and the missed Kris Brown(notes) field goal that followed) permanently stain him if the Texans don't mount a playoff charge?
19. Jacksonville Jaguars: Is it possible that I could be less impressed with a 6-4 team?
24. Washington Redskins: How close was Brian Orakpo(notes) to sacking Tony Romo(notes) before the Dallas quarterback delivered the game-winning touchdown pass on Sunday – and doesn't that typify this team's season?
27. Oakland Raiders: How choked up were Marquis Cooper's(notes) former teammates upon seeing his three-year-old daughter, Delaney, before the game – and how cool is it that they honored him with a clutch special teams play?
28. Seattle Seahawks: After watching this atrocious offense fail to get past midfield until late in the third quarter against the Vikings, I must ask for the 1,000th time – how did the 6-4 Jaguars lose 41-0 to this team?
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Does anyone else find any irony in the fact that the Bucs are on their third starting quarterback three months into their first season without Jon Gruden?
32. Cleveland Browns: Is Eric Mangini, the world's most secretive man, actually upset that the Lions might have faked injuries to slow down his team's offense, or is he just upset that he didn't come up with the idea first?
- San Diego