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Chargers may know by kickoff if Broncos game affects seeding

Broncos playing for pride in season finale
Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson takes part in drills at the NFL football team's headquarters in Centennial on May 23. Wilson and the Broncos will conclude their season Sunday. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

COSTA MESA, Calif. – Brandon Staley is approaching the final week of regular-season practices for the Los Angeles Chargers with a business as usual approach.

What happens in the three hours leading up to Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos though will have a lot of bearing on the Chargers' strategy.

The playoff-bound Bolts should know by kickoff if their game has any bearing on the AFC's fifth seed for the playoffs. The NFL made that a reality on Wednesday when it scheduled the Baltimore Ravens-Cincinnati Bengals game for 11 a.m. instead of 2:25 p.m.

A Bengals win would not only give them the AFC North title, but it would assure the Chargers the fifth seed and the Ravens sixth seed regardless of what happens in Denver.

However, a Ravens victory would mean the Chargers would also have to beat the Broncos to secure the fifth seed. Both teams would finish 11-6, but Los Angeles would win the tiebreaker by having a better conference record.

The fifth seed would face either Jacksonville or Tennessee in the first round.

“We’re definitely going to prepare this week to try and go win this football game with the guys that we have on our team, the 48 guys that are going to be up,” Staley said.

“You have to take the facts on the ground, as they happen, to make your determinations. Once we find out about that game, we’ll make the appropriate decisions moving forward, just take it case-by-case.

“Our approach this week is to go beat the Broncos and to play our best.”

Staley likened this situation to when he was an assistant with the Chicago Bears in 2018. The Bears and Rams were in a battle for the second seed going into the final game, but Los Angeles needed to lose for Chicago to gain a first-round bye.

Both games though were going on at the same time, but once the Rams took a big lead, the Bears decided to sit some players in the second half with a playoff game the following week.

When asked if backups would receive extra snaps in practice in case they see game action, Staley said they would not.

The Chargers pulled most of their starters early in the fourth quarter during last Sunday's 31-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. Quarterback Chase Daniel played two series after Justin Herbert was taken out.

Daniel is likely to see more time than that if Sunday's game has no bearing on the Chargers' playoff seeding. Herbert was a full participant in Wednesday's practice but showed up on the injury report with a left shoulder issue. Staley attributed the listing to “just bumps and bruises from the game” and that Herbert would again be a full practice participant on Thursday.

When asked about transitioning to football this week after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest during Monday night's game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Staley said it was important for his players and coaches to have the right amount of perspective and focus in both places.

Staley recruited Hamlin when he was a college assistant, while two members of his staff – defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill and receivers coach Chris Beatty – coached Hamlin for two years at the University of Pittsburgh. Staley added that Hill's wife, Tanaya, was Hamlin's academic adviser.

“I think that’s why you have to have close football teams and close football organizations, so that you know what that right touch is,” Staley said. “That’s where our focus has been, defining the week – this is going to be our rhythm and routine, this is what we need to get accomplished and how we need to do it. Then, at the same time, once all that’s done, then we also need to address what happened the other night, too. You can do all that at the same time.”

Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley reacts to a fourth down stop during the second half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 26, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)