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AFC playoff picture: How close are the Chargers to competing?

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They’re not out of it, but how close are they?

Tennessee Titans v San Diego Chargers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The AFC playoff picture is beginning to form and if you squint you can still see the San Diego Chargers just off in the distance because thanks to Sunday’s victory over the Tennessee Titans, they remain in the hunt, though most likely only for a possible Wild Card spot.

The AFC West is arguably the toughest division in the NFL right now. The top three teams hold the 2nd, 5th, and 6th playoff positions in the AFC, and the last place Chargers are a dangerous team that nobody would really want to play in the playoffs if they were to get in.

The AFC East is firmly in the grasp of the Patriots like always, but the Bills and Dolphins are still in the mix for the Wild Card.

The AFC North is hot, hot garbage and the .500 Ravens hold the tiebreaker over the .500 Steelers. It’s possible that one of them (or even the Bengals) will get hot and pull away but that remains to be seen.

The AFC South is peculiar. The Texans appear to have the best team, but the Colts clearly have the best quarterback. The Jaguars and Titans are horrible which is something Chargers fans have witnessed firsthand.

  1. New England Patriots (7-1) The Pats have the best point differential in the league and have achieved the most yards per play of any offense in the AFC.
  2. Oakland Raiders (7-2) While their defense is still clearly a weakness, the Raiders offense is second only to the Patriots in yards per play. They can score with anyone and their top position in the best division in the conference is well deserved.
  3. Houston Texans (5-3) Houston’s defense has been excellent, but even after the contract they gave to Brock Osweiler, they do not have a quarterback that they can rely on to win games.
  4. Baltimore Ravens (4-4) Osweiler is somewhat of a poor man’s Joe Flacco, but even the real Flacco isn’t that great. The Ravens are very stout on defense, but their offense is anemic.
  5. Kansas City Chiefs (6-2) The AFC playoffs as they currently stand are a weird place where Alex Smith is one of the three best quarterbacks. They also have a top-10 defense and a solid running game. Unfortunately for them, they play in the AFC West.
  6. Denver Broncos (6-3) The reigning Super Bowl champions are in third place in their defense, but may still be the second-or-third-best team in the conference. Trevor Siemian isn’t going to win them any games but with their defense all he really needs to do is not lose them.

Still in the hunt: Miami Dolphins (4-4), Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4), Buffalo Bills (4-4), Indianapolis Colts (4-5), San Diego Chargers (4-5), Tennessee Titans (4-5), Cincinnati Bengals (3-4-1)

If you believe the projections, the Chargers have about a 1% chance of winning the AFC West still and since the teams ahead of them in the Wild Card race are also in the West, their odds of taking down a Wild Card spot aren’t a lot better. That said, if you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic, you can find them. The Chargers are probably one of the top 16 teams in the NFL and arguably one of the top 12. They’re only two games back of a playoff spot and they have seven games left to make that up. It’s a big ask, but it is well within the realm of possiblity.