After just missing out on the playoffs last year, many wondered if the Chargers would be able to take the next step this season and get to the postseason. With the Chargers sitting at 6-2 with a soft November schedule ahead, the playoffs almost seem to be a foregone conclusion. It is hard to imagine the Chargers not getting to 11-5 and it seems likely that they will achieve a much better record than that.
The Chargers’ next three games are against three of the worst teams in the NFL: the Raiders, Broncos and Cardinals. On top of that, the last two games are at home. The Chargers, after traveling all the way to London last month, will get to enjoy three in-state games, which should all translate into wins.
In the last five games the Chargers will have two of their toughest games of the season. The first of these will be when they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. This is a pivotal game for the Bolts. If they have any dreams of winning the AFC West and playing a postseason game in their beloved StubHub Center they need to get a win here.
The next week they have the Bengals at home. Cincinnati will most likely be fighting for the final wild card spot. This has the potential to be a dangerous game for the Chargers, but I would give the nod to the home field team to come out with a victory here.
Week 15 has the Chargers traveling to Kansas City to face the Chiefs. If the Chiefs and the Chargers both run the table to week 15, this will be a battle to tie for the division lead. The Chiefs also have a potential stumbling block before they reach week 15: they have to face the Rams next week. If the Rams can slow down the Chiefs’ offense, I think the Rams come out of Mexico City with the victory. If this happens and the Chargers beat Pittsburgh, the Chargers could very well be playing for the AFC West lead when they head to Kansas City.
The last two games for the Chargers are the Ravens at home and the Broncos in Mile High. After starting off hot, the Ravens have dropped their last three games. To be fair those last three loses came against the Saints, Panthers and Steelers, some of the best teams in the NFL. Baltimore still has to face both the Chiefs and the Chargers, which makes their path to the playoffs seem like an uphill battle. Even if the Ravens are not in the playoff mix near the end of the season, they very well could end up playing the role of spoiler with their top ranked defense. It will be interesting to see if that defense will be able to slow the Chiefs or the Chargers enough to add a loss to one of their schedules.
In the past, the Chargers have stumbled in that last game of the season. There could be a lot on the line when they travel to Denver. The Chargers could be sitting at 13-2 and playing for not only the title of AFC West Champions but also for home field advantage through the playoffs. There is also a good chance that the Patriots who have a relatively soft reschedule remaining may finish at 14-2 as well. With that much on the line, I would expect the Chargers to take care of business and continue to be a team that wins close games instead of a team that finds a way to lose.
The fan in me wants to say that the stars align for the Chargers. Joey Bosa is fully healed by the Pittsburgh game and causes all sorts of problems for the Steelers offense. With Bosa back, the Boys of Thunder return to their season-ending form of last year and hand Pittsburgh a loss on their home turf. Two weeks later, they eke out a win in KC on a last-second field goal by Michael Badgley. They go on to finish the season 14-2 and somehow end up owning the tiebreaker with New England, giving them home field advantage.
Not only does this scenario appeal to the fan in me, it would cause the NFL to have to try and explain why the AFC Championship game is being played on a soccer field with limited seating capacity.
The realist in me says that the Chargers fall short in Kansas City and end up a wild card team at 13-3 with a road to the superbowl that travels through Pittsburgh, Kansas City and New England. This team has embraced the underdog moniker. Playing in a small stadium filled with opposing fans seems to have put a chip on their shoulder. If this scenario plays out, we can only hope that chip is enough to carry them through to the promised land.