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LIVE: New England Patriots at San Diego Chargers (First Half)

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The 8-4 San Diego Chargers are trying to put their mid-season woes behind them and level up to the level of "championship contender". They can do that with a win over the 9-3 New England Patriots.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

This is not a must-win game.

There are plenty of ways in which the San Diego Chargers can lose this game and get into the playoffs. Heck, they can lose this game and still have a shot at winning the divisions.

However, this is an opportunity to change the perception of the Chargers. Last year they snuck into the playoffs, and were treated as if they didn't belong. Most have assumed that it the ceiling for this year's team as well.

San Diego faces the two favorites to win the AFC Championship in back-to-back weeks, both of them home games. I'm not sure how they'd do it, but if they found themselves at 10-4 with wins over the Patriots and Broncos (and Ravens and Seahawks), the Chargers would go from "potential playoff team" to everyone's favorite to secure a top-2 seed and tear through the playoffs to get to the Super Bowl.

That change in perception would be fun (as would playoff games at Qualcomm Stadium), and is eminently possible, but it has to start with San Diego playing its best game and notching a convincing win over Tom Brady and Bill Belichick tonight.

Can they do it? Yes. Will they do it? I hope so.