Not quite the team they thought they would be by the time late November rolled around, the Los Angeles Chargers finally can see a favorable schedule ahead, and it might not be too late.
A promising run of games will begin Sunday on the road against the Arizona Cardinals, who are hopeful to have quarterback Kyler Murray back on the field, although they were not exactly playing well before his hamstring injury.
The Chargers no longer have health concerns regarding their quarterback after Justin Herbert worked his way through fractured rib cartilage earlier in the season. Also promising was the return last week of wide receiver Keenan Allen, who has missed seven games this year due to a hamstring ailment.
Impacted by a number of early injuries to key players, the Chargers continue to wait on the return of defensive end Joey Bosa from a groin injury.
Upcoming games against the Cardinals and Las Vegas Raiders could give the Chargers the opportunity to get healthy in the standings. After those road contests, the Chargers play host to a pair of first-place teams, the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans.
The Chargers close out the season against the Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Rams and Denver Broncos. The Dolphins and Titans are the only teams remaining on the Chargers' schedule with more than four wins.
With Allen's return, Herbert guided the Chargers to a late lead last Sunday only to see the Kansas City Chiefs score the winning touchdown with 31 seconds remaining and take a 30-27 decision. That came one week after Los Angeles fell 22-16 to the host San Francisco 49ers.
"Our focus is going to be on Arizona," Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. "We played two really tough games in a row in primetime against two really quality teams, and they've been great games. I feel like our level (of play) has been high. I think we know exactly where we stand right now, in terms of the context of the NFL landscape."
Herbert threw for 280 yards with two TDs and an interception against the Chiefs. Allen had five catches for 94 yards while Joshua Palmer made eight receptions for 106 yards and two scores. Austin Ekeler had 83 yards rushing to provide a boost for an anemic ground game that ranks third from the bottom in the NFL at 87.9 yards per contest.
"He's doing everything that he can to be out there," Herbert said about Allen. "He's a competitor."
Now comes a date with the Cardinals, whose defense rates among the bottom third of NFL teams at 245.4 yards passing allowed per game. On offense, Arizona is middle of the pack with 223 yards in the air per game.
The Cardinals had 247 yards passing in a 38-10 loss to the 49ers on Monday night at Mexico City, but Colt McCoy and Trace McSorley combined to throw two interceptions while taking three sacks.
Murray, who led the Cardinals to a 3-6 mark before his injury, was on track to start this week, according to coach Kliff Kingsbury. He was a full participant in Wednesday's practice.
"He looked good (Wednesday), so I'm feeling good about the chances," Kingsbury said. "I think if we didn't let him, we'd have a fistfight in my office at this point, so I feel like he's definitely trending in the right direction."
While Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz (knee) is expected to miss the remainder of the season, wide receivers Greg Dortch (thumb) and Rondale Moore (groin) were out of practice on Wednesday.
After making one catch last week, Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams (ankle) did not practice on Wednesday. Cornerback Bryce Callahan (groin) also missed practice.
--Field Level Media