The San Diego Chargers got off to a slow start once again this season. After blowing three sure-win games, and causing themselves another loss against division rival Oakland Raiders, the Chargers found themselves in dead last at 1-4.
Since that start, the team has won three of their last four games to put them at 4-5, and somewhat back into the division race. Had they beaten the Broncos in Denver in week eight, they’d find themselves in a much better place. But then again, had they not blown fourth quarter leads against the Chiefs, Colts, and Saints they be sitting atop the AFC. Since none of those things happened, let’s take a look at what now has to happen to get the Chargers into a playoff position.
To be real, the Chargers kind of need to win all of their remaining games if they want a real shot at this thing. Heck, we’ve seen them do it before. In 2009 they started out 2-3, then won the remaining 11 games to put them at 13-3 and into the playoffs.
In 2014, the team started out 5-6, then won five of the last six games to put them into the Wild-Card round. So let’s see what magic they can pull off this time to push them into the playoffs.
To start, let us look at what it takes to get into the NFL playoffs. The tournament brackets are made up of six teams from each of the league’s two conferences. Qualification for the playoffs works as follows: each of the four division winners is seeded 1–4 based on their overall records. The other two spots are filled with the next two highest records (non-division winners). The Raiders are 7-2, Chiefs are 6-2 and the Broncos are 6-3. The Raiders and Chiefs look like they’re both in a prime position to take the division, with only two losses a piece. Two of these three teams will make the playoffs without a doubt, so that leaves only one spot up for grabs for the Chargers.
Let’s take a look at the Chargers remaining schedule and see which games they should win, and which games they need to win. If the Chargers can keep up this dominant play on both offense and defense, then beating the Dolphins and the Bucs at home should be no problem. Then they take on the Browns, Texans, and struggling Panthers on the road. The Browns should be a walk in the park. The Texans haven’t won any notable games this season, so if the team keeps up their tough play, that should be a sure win as well. Playing the Panthers on the road, despite their struggles, will be one of the most difficult remaining games for the Chargers. So, lets say the Chargers win all of their should win games, their record will stand at 8-5.
The game in Carolina, then home games against the Raiders and Chiefs, are the three most crucial games remaining on the Chargers schedule. After taking losses to both Oakland and Kansas City earlier in the season, those two games carry more weight than any. If it comes down to the Chargers and any other team in the AFC West for the last wild-card spot, the division record can push them up over the other AFC West choice. So let’s say they lose in Carolina, but take out the Chiefs and Raiders at home. They will finish 10-6 on the season. Good enough for playoffs?
The Ravens and Steelers are neck and neck for their division, one will knock the other out leaving them for a wild-card spot. The Patriots are obviously taking their division, leaving the Dolphins for a wild-card spot, which the Chargers can give themselves an edge for this next Sunday if they beat them. The Texans and Colts look to battle it out in the AFC South, with the Colts inching closer and closer towards the top of the division. So besides two combinations between the Chiefs/Broncos/Raiders, the Chargers need to outperform the Dolphins, Colts, Ravens, Steelers, and possibly the Bills.
Beating both the Chiefs and Raiders would be huge for the Chargers. It would put them at 10-5 (assuming they win all of their “should win” games) and 3-3 in the division. And of course, beating the Panthers in Carolina, which is completely possible (look at Week Seven for example).
So, as it turns out. The one true way the Chargers can guarantee themselves a playoff spot would be to win all of their remaining games. With five games already in the loss column, the Chargers cannot afford to lose any games at all.
What to Watch For
Through the remainder of the season, it’s important to note not only the Chargers wins, but losses all of our division opponents take. On top of this, watch for losses for the Dolphins, Steelers, Colts, Ravens, and the Bills. All of these teams also have four to five losses, so every loss to them is a blow to them making the playoffs.
Although we are only in week ten, every game from here on out will help to decide whether our Chargers make the playoffs or not.