The NFL season is long and difficult to understand. Three weeks ago the San Diego Chargers were being left for dead. Head coach Mike McCoy was about to be fired and there were debates on whether Ken Whisenhunt or John Pagano should be the interim head coach. Now, the Chargers find themselves in the thick of the playoff race after back to back victories; one against the Denver Broncos, the reigning Super Bowl Champions, and another against the first place NFC South Atlanta Falcons. So, at 3-4, do the San Diego Chargers have a chance to make the playoffs this year? The answer to that question is yes and here is why.
San Diego has invested a lot of resources, whether it was through free agency, or via the draft, in their defense. This offseason, the newly acquired Brandon Mebane stated that San Diego had as much talent on their defense, as his former team, the Seattle Seahawks did. He sure raised some eyebrows with that comment. But maybe he was onto something. Bosa, Ingram, Brown, Mebane, Hayward, and Perryman are a solid core on this defense and have done a tremendous job keeping their team in games. San Diego is currently ranked 10th in the league in stopping the run by allowing only 90 rushing yards per contest. In addition, the Chargers are tied for 7th in the league in takeaways (12) and sacks (17). Translation, San Diego finally has a good defense to go along with their elite offense. The pressure is no longer solely on Philip Rivers and the offense. This defense has the ability to step up and help win a game, something the Chargers haven't had in the past. And as the season progresses, this young defense will continue to gel together and improve.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
The Chargers have a pivotal game this week against their division rival, the Denver Broncos. This will be the second time in three weeks these two teams square off. If San Diego is able to steal a victory from the Broncos on the road, then the Chargers will put themselves in a great position to make a second half playoff push. My fellow colleague, Richard Wade, brought up a great point in regards to San Diego’s schedule. The Chargers have the weakest remaining schedule in the NFL (per DVOA).
The San Diego Chargers have the weakest remaining schedule in the NFL (per DVOA). That's pretty nice.— Richard Wade (@RichardWade) October 25, 2016
After the road game against the Broncos this weekend, the Chargers are home against the Titans, home against the Dolphins, on the road against the Texans, home against the Buccaneers, on the road against the Panthers, home against the Raiders, at Cleveland, and home against the Chiefs. Just looking at that schedule, it is feasible to think the Chargers can win 5 or 6 of those games putting them right where they need to be to advance to the playoffs.
THERE ARE THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS AND EVERYONE ELSE
The AFC is wide open. The New England Patriots are the only dominant team in the AFC. The AFC North is not as strong as they once were. Only 1 team (Pittsburgh Steelers) has a record at .500 or better. The Houston Texans lead a weak AFC South with a 4-3 record. In the east, the Bills are the only other team that is over .500. It looks like one, if not both wildcard slots will be represented by an AFC West team. If the Chargers can start splitting some series with their division rivals they will be ensured post season play.
The Chargers offense has been decimated by injuries. Woodhead, Allen, Johnson, Oliver, and Cumberland are all out for the year due to injuries. However, San Diego has done a great job with the depth on their offense and have been more prepared this yea than prior seasons This offseason, the Chargers added Travis Benjamin and Hunter Henry to help supplement a good offense. Wide receiver Tyrell Williams, who was a 2015 undrafted free agent, has also been a great find by San Diego. Thanks to the great depth on the offensive side, the Chargers have enough fire power to keep the pressure on opposing defenses.
A RUNNING GAME?
To say Melvin Gordon has had a bounce back year is an understatement. He currently leads the league in touchdowns with 10 total scores. Granted his yards per carry has been low this year, he has improved dramatically. The Chargers are asking a lot out of the second year back because of the loss of Woodhead. Gordon is the bell cow, the 3rd down back, an extra blocker in pass protection, and a receiver. He has improved every aspect of his game. But some credit needs to be given to the offensive line, and the scheme of Ken Whisenhunt as well.
Whenever number 17 is under center the Chargers have a shot. He is a strong MVP candidate as we are at the half way mark of the season.
Last week, Herm Edwards stated the San Diego Chargers were a dangerous team. He just might have been right. This isn’t the same team as last year. The Chargers are much improved and if they can find out a way to consistently close games, there is no reason why they cannot go to the playoffs. The San Diego Chargers are quickly becoming that team that no one wants to play.