SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The San Diego Chargers' task is simple. Keep winning and they'll be AFC West champions for the second straight year and third time in four seasons.
Their final three games, starting at home Sunday against the fading Detroit Lions, stack up rather nicely. They don't have to leave California and their opponents are mediocre, at best.
The way they've careened inconsistently through their first season under coach Norv Turner, and with a handful of star players hurting following a tough win at Tennessee, the Bolts still bear the burden of proof.
"We know that we can't afford to really just slack off at all. 8-5, you lose the last three games, you're 8-8," said running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who's on a nice late-season roll. "We certainly know how important this game is and we're going to be focused and ready to play."
The Chargers have already lost three more games than they did last year under Marty Schottenheimer, not counting their playoff pratfall against the New England Patriots.
They've lost games they felt they should have won. While they've won three straight and seven of nine, they haven't exactly played at a riveting clip. San Diego has beaten only two teams with winning records, Indianapolis and Tennessee.
The Chargers will be trying to avoid a trap game against the Lions (6-7).
"Even if we weren't banged up, they could cause us problems," Tomlinson said. "I know they have lost five straight but they have beaten some pretty good teams, and some of their losses have been in games that they could have won."
Among the teams beating the Lions in the past five weeks were division champions Dallas and Green Bay; the New York Giants, who are on the cusp of clinching a wild-card berth; and the Minnesota Vikings, who are closing fast on the final NFC playoff spot.
Detroit remains in the NFC wild-card hunt, a game behind the Vikings.
"This is a team that's very dangerous," Tomlinson said. "They're very dangerous on offense and they're second in the league in causing turnovers. So that's always kind of an eye-opener when you see that."
The Lions blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead against Dallas last Sunday and lost 28-27.
"The last five weeks have been very disappointing after the way we started the season," quarterback Jon Kitna said.
Kitna said a sense of doubt seemed to disappear during the Cowboys game.
"Even though we didn't come away with the win, I think there's a little more confidence in the building today than there was last week at this time," Kitna said at midweek.
Before the season, Kitna said he would be disappointed if the Lions didn't win at least 10 games.
Those 10 wins are still possible, "but we just can't get them in the regular season," Kitna said.
Facing the Chargers, "you're talking about a team that really has an opportunity to go deep into the playoffs and even go to the Super Bowl," Kitna said. "They've got every piece of the puzzle that you look for. For us, it's the same type of game as last week with Dallas. We know that we're going to have to make every play that's available to us. You can't miss one. When you're playing the good teams, you can't miss one. That's what's happened the last five weeks."
The Chargers are coming off a bruising overtime win at Tennessee in which they trailed by 14 points in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Philip Rivers sprained his left knee but hobbled back into the game and played well down the stretch, including throwing a touchdown pass to Antonio Gates with 9 seconds left in regulation.
Rivers hobbled through the week but was expected to start against the Lions. Gates hurt his back and didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday.
Tomlinson won the game with a 16-yard run in overtime. He finished with 146 yards rushing and also caught a touchdown pass.
The week before, Tomlinson ran for 177 yards and two scores in a win at Kansas City.
The Chargers will be without outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, who has 11 1/2 sacks. Merriman sprained his left knee in the second quarter at Tennessee. He could miss more than just this game.
While Merriman celebrates sacks with a spasmodic dance, his replacement, Marques Harris, celebrates big plays with a cartwheel followed by a backflip.