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Chargers Path to the Playoffs: Their chances aren’t great

The Chargers have two things working against their path to the playoffs this week: The Jaguars and the Titans.

Kansas City Chiefs v San Diego Chargers Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Hey, remember this post from yesterday? The one that promised that the Los Angeles Chargers had a “very real chance” of making the NFL Playoffs this year? I respectfully disagree, and I’m here to explain why.

(Author’s Note: The numbers that I reference below, as far as the team’s chances of winning their game this week, are stolen straight from Cynthia Frelund and this week’s episode of the Game Theory and Money podcast.)

Ignoring ties, which are absolute garbage and don’t happen enough to care about them, the Chargers need one of two things to happen on Sunday to keep playing:

1) Chargers win, Titans lose, Ravens win

2) Chargers win, Titans lose, Bills lose


1) Chargers win, Titans lose

2) Chargers win, Titans lose

While the Chargers have a 70.5% chance to win against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, and are favored by 8 points at home, they do not control their own destiny. They need help, and before we get to what step 2 is, we have to get past step 1: The Titans need to lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Bad News

The Titans defeated the Jaguars on September 17th (Week 2) by a score of 37-16, in Jacksonville! Tennessee, the home team this week, is favored by 3 points according to Las Vegas.

Also, the Jaguars lost the the San Francisco 49ers (!) last week and have had a few left-down games this year (losses to the Jets and Cardinals come to mind). They’re not unbeatable, even when playing at full-strength.

What It Means for the Jaguars

This game means the opposite of nothing for the Jaguars. In fact, they get to choose their opponent in the Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs depending upon their performance in this game.

If they lose to the Titans this Sunday (51.7% chance of that happening, even if they play at full-strength), they play the Titans next Sunday. In Jacksonville. By that point, they will have seen Tennessee twice, and will have a good idea of how to attack their weaknesses.

If they defeat the Titans, they run the risk of having to play the Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Chargers, or Baltimore Ravens....with no real control over which one it will be. The likeliest outcome is that all three of those teams win on Sunday, which would put the Chargers in and have them travel to Jacksonville for the Wild Card Round (thank you, Nathan Peterman).

The Chargers are 9th in Weighted DVOA (12.1%) and the Titans are 22nd (-11.2%). If you had your choice of which of those teams to face in the playoffs next week, which would you choose?

The Point

This Sunday’s game between the Jaguars and Titans will determine the Chargers’ playoff chances. From a reasonable and rational point of view, both the Jaguars and Titans would seem to want the outcome to be one that leaves the Chargers on the golf course next week instead of in the playoffs.

The only way this anti-Chargers plan goes awry is if Doug Marrone puts down his bologna and cheese sandwich and decides it is more important for his team to not be in the midst of a two game losing streak heading into the playoffs than it is for his team to play against a team that they stand a better chance of defeating in the playoffs. That’s possible...

I just don’t think it’s likely.

What I imagine will happen is that Marrone will put his starters out there and call a vanilla, preseason-like, gameplan. Once the Titans take an early lead, he’ll yank his starters and essentially roll over, beginning the gameplan for next week’s Jaguars-Titans playoff game.

Unless I’m wrong, which I have been known to be.