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Can the Chargers still win the AFC West?

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San Diego Chargers v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

After the Chargers topped the Broncos last Thursday night, and the Chiefs win against the Raiders, things have gotten a lot more interesting in the AFC West. NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal called the AFC West the “most compelling division” in the NFL while also saying the Chargers have “Oceans of talent on both sides of the ball.” Rosenthal claims he is not giving up on this team, but should he? Can Chargers fans realistically hope they still have a shot to win the division even with a 2-4 start?

Stats

Statistics don’t mean everything but it is a good measurement of team performance. Stats show some strengths in teams and their weaknesses. This allows us to compare teams with each other and see how they stack up. Here’s how the AFC West ranks offensively. According to NFL.com statistics, in total yards the Raiders rank 7th in the NFL, the Chargers rank 14th, the Chiefs rank 16th and the Broncos rank 28th. Rushing the Raiders rank 13th, the Chiefs rank 14th, the Broncos rank 19th, and the Chargers 28th. Passing the Raiders rank 9th, the Chargers rank 11th; the Chiefs rank 19th and the Broncos rank 27th. These ranks are from a combination of attempts, yards, and scoring. Offensive lines are also ranked statistically on NFL.com. The Raiders O-line ranks 1st; Chargers come in next at 19th, followed by the Chiefs at 24th, and the Broncos rank last in the division with the 29th ranked O-line in the NFL. Based on the stats the Chargers overall have the 2nd best offense in the AFC West behind the Raiders.

Defensively is different. According to NFL.com, the Broncos rank 4th in total yards allowed defensively in the NFL, followed by the Chiefs rank 22nd, the Chargers rank 26th, and the Raiders rank 32nd. Against the pass the Broncos rank 1st, the Chiefs rank 11th, the Chargers rank 24th, and the Raiders rank 32nd. Against the run the Chargers rank 5th, the Broncos rank 21st, the Chiefs rank 23rd, and the Raiders rank 29th.

Now the stat I find to be the most important is scoring. To win a game you have to score and not allow your opponent to score. Offensive total points the Chargers rank 2nd in the NFL, the Raiders rank 10th, the Broncos rank 14th, and the Chiefs rank 26th. Defensive points allowed the Chiefs rank 5th in the NFL, the Broncos rank 9th; the Chargers rank 23rd, and the Raiders rank 24th.

What does all that mean? That the Chargers are a little better than the record indicates. Each of team in the AFC besides the Chargers does not have losing records yet the Chargers out rank their division rival in many categories. Statistically, the Chargers have the 3rd ranked defense in the division, and the 2nd ranked offense in the division. These stats can give Chargers fans hope. Not only can the Chargers beat each team (they currently have a 1-2 record in the division) but in a few games they should be favored. The question remains is the hole the Chargers have dug themselves too big to overcome?

Schedule

The Chargers are 2-4. If they are going to compete for the division crown they cannot afford to give away any more games. To make the playoffs, teams aim to win ten games in the season. The Chargers have ten games left and need to win 8 to make the playoffs.

On the schedule, the Chargers next two games appear to be the toughest on paper. At Atlanta and Denver are two tough back to back road game for any team. After those two games, every other game on the schedule is winnable. It no longer looks like a tough task to go into to Houston and Carolina.

On the same token, the rest of the division has a similar schedule as they play teams from the AFC South and NFC South divisions. The only two games the Chargers have the rest of the division doesn’t have is home against the Dolphins and at the Browns. The Raiders toughest games on paper are the division games they have left. They still have three road division games, and a home game with the Broncos left. The Chiefs also have both Broncos games and a road game in Atlanta. The rest are winnable on paper. The Broncos have the toughest schedule remaining. They still have two road division games as well as a home game against the Patriots.

Based on schedule it is a wash. Most match ups are similar, and so far the rest of the division can win games against teams the Chargers did not beat (Colts and Saints). It is hard to imagine the Chargers making up ground winning games against similar opponents. The fate of this division will be decided by head to head records. If the Chargers have plans to win the West they need to win their remaining three division games. Being down 1-2 already makes it an uphill climb. The Broncos have a 0-1 division record, the Chiefs are 2-0, and the Raiders are 1-1.

Coaching

This is the category the Chargers are last in, just like their current standing in the division. The Broncos have a Super Bowl winning head coach in Gary Kubiak who has earned respect from his team. Wade Phillips also has made a huge impact on that defense in his short tenure with the team. The Chiefs have playoff machine Andy Reid, who continues to get the most out of the Chiefs. His preparation and experience are tops in the AFC West. Jack Del Rio is also finding success in Oakland. He was successful with the Jaguars and also as a Defensive Coordinate with the Broncos. His aggression coaching has this young Raiders team believing in him but more importantly in themselves.

And then there is Coach Mike McCoy. Everyone is well familiar with his credentials so far as an NFL head coach. Assuming he finishes out the year with the Bolts, he ranks last in the division. His game plan and preparation seem to work as he has only been blown out twice in his four years as the Chargers, head coach. But on the same token just this year alone he has left many wins on the table with his conservative style. As other coaches in this division tend to have a few wins where their teams should have lost, Coach McCoy is the opposite and tends to lose games his team should win.

Conclusion

I agree with Gregg Rosenthal that this division is the most compelling and competitive division in the NFL, but I am not pre-ordering a Chargers West Divisions Champs shirt. I just don’t see the Chargers finishing the year 8-2. They have tough matchups within their division, and I expect them to lose a couple of winnable games due to their coaching and team confidence. One thing not mentioned above is health. The Chargers are clearly the most injured team in this division, and I think this catches up with the Bolts. After last week wins the national media was impressed with the Chargers claiming they have real talent. But there is a reason the team is 2-4 despite having the lead in every game in the 4th quarter.

This next game against the Falcons will show us if the Chargers are real contenders unless the Bolts win I don’t see them winning the division this season.