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Tomlinson expected to play vs. Colts despite strained groin

SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers aren't apologizing for winning the awful AFC West with an 8-8 record.

One thing they need to do, though, is figure out how to do better than the previous eight teams that went into the playoffs with a .500 record since 1985.

Plus, LaDainian Tomlinson said a strained groin will have him at less than full strength when the Bolts renew their rivalry with Peyton Manning and the streaking Indianapolis Colts (12-4) in the wild-card round Saturday.

"It's a little sore today, but that was expected, you know?" Tomlinson said Monday. "Groin injuries are always worse the day after. I don't think I'll be 100 percent, but we'll see what happens on Saturday."

After tumbling to 4-8, the Chargers won four straight, then got help from Denver's three-game collapse to make the playoffs.

"Not ideal, but we'll take it," Tomlinson said. "It's a pretty strange season, ain't it? But it's good to be in this position, no doubt, to say that you're division champs again, to be going to the playoffs and be hosting a playoff game. That's a great feeling for us."

Not so great is his health.

Tomlinson had his first three-touchdown game of the season and ran for 96 yards in San Diego's 52-21 rout of the Denver Broncos on Sunday night that clinched the Chargers' third straight AFC West title. He said he could feel something as the game developed, and the muscle grabbed "real bad" on a 1-yard run with four minutes left in the third quarter. He didn't play again.

"He's a little sore, but again, they expect him, as the week goes on, to get better and be able to practice and be ready to play," coach Norv Turner said. "We'll keep a close watch on that."

He added that Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates sprained an ankle Sunday night but should be OK.

Tomlinson was hurt in the playoffs last year, missing most of the loss to New England in the AFC championship game with a knee injury. He wasn't too chipper Monday but said reporters might be reading too much into his mood.

"It's more of a business mind-set," he said. "It's a new season. We've got a tough game this week. We're playing Saturday. We've got to be ready to play."

The Colts have won nine straight while Manning is having an MVP-caliber season. This will be the sixth game between the teams in five seasons, and the second straight year they've met in the playoffs.

The Chargers upset the defending Super Bowl champion Colts 28-24 in the divisional round last season in Indianapolis, with subs filling in after Tomlinson and Philip Rivers got hurt.

The Colts came away with a heart-stopping 23-20 win in San Diego on Nov. 23 when Adam Vinatieri kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired.

"Tough," Tomlinson said about drawing the Colts. "You talk about a team that people don't want to play, this has to be one of those teams because they've been playing great football."

The Chargers are the first team to go from 4-8 to the playoffs. They went 0-5 against teams that have reached the playoffs, including the Colts.

San Diego joins the 1985 Cleveland Browns as the only teams to win division titles at 8-8. Seven teams have clinched wild-card spots at 8-8. Overall, the eight previous teams that went into the playoffs at .500 went 2-8, with the wild-card Vikings and Rams each winning a game in 2004.

Tomlinson said the Chargers can be different than those other 8-8 playoff teams -- they'll be playing at home, and in recent weeks they've looked more like the team people expected.

Beating Oakland and Kansas City is one thing, but the Chargers kept their playoff hopes alive by winning 41-24 at Tampa Bay before beating the Broncos.

"Man, over the last two weeks we have played great football," Tomlinson said. "I was sitting there thinking about it last night, scoring 41 points up in Tampa and then turning around and scoring 52. That's pretty good for the National Football League. It's not college, now, you know, Oklahoma scoring 60 points the last five games, but it's pretty good for being in the NFL."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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