If the Chargers are to compete for the AFC West crown this season, they'll need to win the next two games before finishing the season strong. Here's why:
First Place in the AFC West
I know, this is going to seem silly, but if the Chargers want a shot at winning the division they're going to need to be at least tied for first place after Week 11. After that, both the Chargers and Broncos have six remaining games. Here is how the schedules look.
- vs. Ravens (6-2)
- vs. Bengals (3-5)
- at Steelers (5-3)
- vs. Panthers (2-6)
- at Jets (3-5)
- vs. Raiders (3-5)
Is that the world's hardest schedule? No. Can the Chargers go 6-0 against those teams? I don't think so. Best case scenario, with wintry games in Pittsburgh and New Jersey, is probably 4-2. If they can do that after winning their next two games, they finish 10-6.
- at Chiefs (1-7)
- vs. Buccaneers (4-4)
- at Raiders (3-5)
- at Ravens (6-2)
- vs. Browns (2-7)
- vs. Chiefs (1-7)
See? That's a walk in the park. Two games against the Chiefs and a home game against the Browns? Unless they face a rash of major injuries, I'd pick Denver to go 5-1 or 6-0 against these teams. They're currently 5-3. If they could lose the next two weeks, 5-1 would also put them at 10-6.
Beat a Good Team
The Chargers want the fans to buy in. The fans want an impressive win over a good team. This feels like 2011 all over again.
The 2011 squad came out and walloped the Baltimore Ravens and the fans were on board.....and then it didn't matter because the Chargers got destroyed by the Detroit Lions the following week. There hasn't been much belief in this team since, and winning games against the Chiefs and Titans (and a weakened Raiders team) hasn't done anything to change that perception.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing like a good team. The Denver Broncos are playing like a very good team. If Philip Rivers and Co. can beat them both, stringing together 3 wins, the fans will once again believe that this team is actually good.
The Peyton Manning Train
It's gaining steam. His teammates are buying in. The fans are buying in. The national media is buying in. No longer is the talk about his neck or his weakened arm strength. The talk has turned into "How deep of a run can they make in the playoffs?"
Losing to the Broncos and going 2 games or more back with an easy final month ahead of Denver would lead to the Chargers being completely left out of any discussions, because it will be too late to throw the brakes on the Peyton Manning train.