Believe it or not, the NFL world does not stop during the San Diego Chargers' bye week. While you're at home watching the not-Chargers play and, presumably, rooting for your fantasy teams, you should also be rooting for what helps the Chargers' playoff chances the most. Luckily for you, we've already done all the thinking and all you have to do is root for the following teams.
These games matter
The Cincinnati Bengals (against the New York Jets) - You can consider it premature, but I'm already penciling in Cincinnati as AFC North champs. They've got a balanced attack on offense and a great defensive unit, and no one else in that division is playing particularly great football. If anyone wants to lose money, I'll gladly give you the "field" in the AFC North if you give me the Bengals with even odds. The Jets, on the other hand, are currently tied with the Chargers at 4-3. A win for the Jets on Sunday would give them a half game lead over the Chargers, not to mention a game they weren't expecting. The Jets don't have an easy schedule going forward, but it certainly isn't a difficult one either seeing as there's only one other winning team besides Cincinnati left for them to play. If they lose the ones they're supposed to, they shouldn't be an obstacle for the Chargers' playoff hopes; so let's root for just that. Also, I don't like the Jets and I bet you don't either.
The Washington Redskins (against the Denver Broncos) - It'd be really nice if the Chargers weren't relegated to competing solely for that last playoff spot. One way for that to be true is for Denver to drop at least one more game, which really opens up the Chargers' door to controlling their own destiny. If RG3 can steal this game in Denver, the Broncos and Chargers could split their two games and the Chargers would still have an opportunity to seize the fifth spot, noting that Denver would still have road games against Kansas City, Oakland, New England, and Houston left on their schedule. One final thing we should be watching in this game is the injury bug. Not only do we have two games left against Denver, but we play Washington next week. I'm not advocating that anyone here roots for an injury - karma people! - but am noting that an injury sustained by either team will help the Chargers in the immediate future. Play close attention to this game.
These games kinda matter
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots - I'm not picking a team to root for, so you can pick your poison here. What's certain is that either way you choose, you lose: either you're rooting for the Evil Empire to win and inch closer to a playoff bye, or you're rooting for a team to even up with the Chargers in the Wild Card hunt. From a purely Chargers perspective, it's probably best to root for New England - vomit - but since a Chargers win in Miami three weeks from now is probably necessary for a playoff berth anyway, I can't blame you for rooting against the Patriots in this one. Also: should the Chargers make the playoffs, their first round matchup would be against one of the other three division winners. A New England loss may make them a more likely first round matchup for the Chargers (and I honestly consider them an easier matchup than Cincinnati).
Cleveland Browns (against Kansas City Chiefs) - If the Chargers want to entertain any pipe dream at winning the division, it's imperative that Kansas City starts losing almost immediately. Cleveland is on the playoff radar at 3-4 (and their defense is legitimate), but with road games remaining against New England, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and the New York Jets, I'm not too concerned about their ability to stay in that race even with a surprise win in Kansas City. KC, on the other hand, probably has to drop one of their next two games - home versus Cleveland or on the road in Buffalo - going into their bye week if the Bolts are going to somehow catch them. The Chiefs do still have the Chargers twice, Broncos twice, Indianapolis, a road game in Washington, and their road leg of the Raiders/Chiefs rivalry left to play. That will be a fair amount of losses as it is, but (barring a perfect Chargers finish) it'll take a surprise loss out of Kansas City for catching them to become a real possibility. Go...Norv?
I doubt these games will matter, but maybe they will
Pittsburgh Steelers (against Oakland Raiders) - It's entirely possible Pittsburgh jumps back in the race, so my reasoning here comes down to two things. 1. It's the Raiders. Whenever possible, we root against them. 2. We still play Oakland. If they stay within a game or two of the Chargers for the Wild Card - which winning this game does - then the Chargers/Raiders game late in the season would be a double whammy. I'd prefer to separate the contenders for the Wild Card slot from our late season schedule, so let's just get Oakland out of the way as soon as possible. These are two 2-4 teams, so the game isn't overly important, but the winner does get back in the picture.
New Orleans Saints (against Buffalo Bills) - Buffalo is currently just a game behind the Chargers for the Wild Card. I'm not too concerned about Buffalo at this point as they already have four conference losses, and have an awful quarterback situation, but we should still be rooting for as few challengers as possible. This also gives us a reason to root for Drew Brees,
Robert Meachem, and Darren Sproles, instead of quietly hoping they fail, so why not?
If you have nothing better to do
Jacksonville Jaguars (against San Francisco 49ers) - The main reason I want Jacksonville to win is to decrease their odds of landing the first pick; I want that thing going to an NFC team! Additionally, strength of victory is the fourth Wild Card tie-breaker (right after common opponents) so any win we can get out of Jacksonville will help us in the rare scenario that it comes down to this. I also harbor a lot of ill will towards the San Francisco 49ers for making me cry back in 1995. I don't forgive easily.
Carolina Panthers (against Tampa Bay Buccaneers) - Like I said earlier, this is to help keep the number one selection in the NFC. I know you're going to watch Thursday Night Football because it's football on Thursday and you like football, so since Tampa is currently winless, why not root for keeping that lucrative first selection away from the Jaguars (and, ultimately, the AFC)?
Green Bay Packers (against Minnesota Vikings) - Like the previous two, this is a selection solely for increasing the odds that the first overall pick in the 2014 draft goes to an NFC team who the Chargers would play once every four years. Minnesota has just one win on the season, so they're still a contender for that selection.
Arizona Cardinals (against Atlanta Falcons) - In a bizarre scheduling quirk, Arizona still has all four of their games against AFC teams yet-to-be-played. Since this includes Tennessee, who is just one game behind the Chargers and owns the tie-breaker, Houston, and Indianapolis, we should want Arizona as fresh as possible in order to help make our path to the playoffs marginally easier. It also wouldn't hurt if they were playing good football and had reason to continue to do so late into the year. Atlanta, on the other hand, only has Buffalo left to play in the AFC.