The NFL season is a long one. Sundays go by quick, but the days in between make it a long season. A lot can happen, things can change, there is always a possibility for a turn of events.
The Los Angeles Chargers started a little slower than we would have liked. However, they have been firing on all cylinders since their Week 3 loss against the 9-1 Rams. Philip Rivers is playing at an MVP-caliber level, Melvin Gordon has established himself as an elite running back in this league, the defense has been getting better and better despite the absence of Joey Bosa.
They sit at 7-2 entering Week 11. That record is the second best in the AFC behind the 9-1 Kansas City Chiefs. The only problem is that those two teams play in the same division. If both teams continue at their pace, the Chargers could very well be the second best team (record-wise) in the conference, but would end up needing to win three road games to reach the Promised Land.
The last team to both reach and win a Super Bowl as a team who did not earn a first-round bye was the 2012 Baltimore Ravens. Out of the ten Super Bowl participants since those Ravens won the infamous power-outage Super Bowl in New Orleans, nine of them earned the number one seed in their conference. The lone exception was the 2016 Atlanta Falcons who earned the second seed but still played both their playoff games at home.
Those Ravens had a home playoff game in the first round. The last team to win the Super Bowl as a wild card team was the 2010 Green Bay Packers.
It is a trend for a reason. Five straight years of Super Bowl participants who did not have to go on the road puts emphasis on how home-field advantage is key and earning a first round bye is key.
It is hard to win in the playoffs. It is hard to win on the road. These teams over the last five years have been allowed an extra week of practice. An extra week to get healthy. Riding the momentum wave and coming in “hot” is overrated.
The Chargers are well-rounded enough to go into Houston/Pittsburgh/New England/Kansas City to win a playoff game. They are well-coached and have a veteran leader at quarterback who is playing the best ball of his life. They have a great running game and defense; both essentials to postseason success. If any team can pull off what has not been pulled off since The Office was still airing new episodes, these Chargers are that team.
That being said, the Chargers cannot have the mentality of “Oh well, we are good enough to win as a fifth seed so let’s just get ready for that.”
There is unfinished business. There is a mission to be completed.
Circle these three dates on your calendar:
11/19 - Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Rams
12/2 - Los Angeles Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers
12/13 - Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs
The Chargers have the chance to gain ground and even take a lead in their division over the next four weeks of the season.
- The Chiefs were going to be in Mexico City to face the Rams on Monday Night Football this upcoming week, but concert fans ruined the field and all players who tried playing on that field risked tearing ACLs. The NFL intelligently moved this game to Los Angeles. The Chiefs offense looks like a video game and their only blemish was a 43-40 no-shame loss in New England. The Rams have been playing sloppier as of late but look to maintain ground as the New Orleans Saints look like a juggernaut at this point. Both teams have high-powered offenses with shaky defensive play, although the potential of the Rams defense is greater. The Chargers will be hosting the Denver Broncos. If they take care of business as they should and the Rams are able to pull off what is likely to be a thriller, the Chiefs and the Chargers will both be tied in the loss column. The city of Los Angeles has some great responsibility this Week with their football teams who have their own fates at stake.
- Week 13 presents us with another marquee matchup and potential playoff preview. This game was even flexed to Sunday Night Football on NBC, replacing the Seahawks-49ers game that was originally scheduled. Both these teams are sizzling hot. We know what the Chargers have been doing recently. The Steelers just came off a 52-21 clobbering of the Carolina Panthers. The Steelers star-studded offense with Ben Roethlisberger, James Conner, Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and others can score at will. It is their defense that strikes fear. Entering Week 11, they have sacked quarterbacks 31 times which is tied for first in the league. They are eighth in total yards allowed per game at just a tick over 336. The Chargers currently have the eighth ranked total offense with with 392.1 yards per game and score 26.7 points per game which is good for tenth. This becomes a must win only if the Chiefs lead the division at this point. If both teams are tied and the Chargers lose, they can redeem themselves eleven days following. But they must enter this game playing it as if it were the postseason. This is a team they may very well see just a few weeks later. This game might determine seeding. The Steelers sit at 6-2-1 entering Week 11 and are aiming for their own first-round bye. The Chargers need to play smart, fundamentally sound football. The offensive line has been great all year and must continue to protect Philip Rivers and open up holes for Melvin Gordon because that pass rush in Pittsburgh has been in attack mode all season. On defense, they can not allow the big play. This is a home-run hitting team who will burn opponents over the top if defenders miss even one step. On this same date, the Chiefs will go to Oakland. Must more be said? Any team can win on any given Sunday but a betting man is not putting any money on the Raiders in this one.
- The revenge game. The game that might decide the entire season for the Chargers. Thursday Night Football at Arrowhead. For fans, it does not get any better than this. The Chargers will need to win this game if they have hopes to win the AFC West. This could be the most impactful game in the entire outlook of the AFC outlook, and it might even swing the MVP race. Will Philip Rivers put himself at the top of the race if he wins this game and puts his team in position for a bye? Will Patrick Mahomes seal the deal? Will he lose the game and give the top spot to Rivers or Drew Brees? There is a lot to be answered with this one. If the Chargers win, how likely is it that New England, Pittsburgh, or Houston can come into their building and win a playoff game? Can Kansas City get their revenge in a potential third matchup of the season? Entering Week 11, The Chiefs offense averages 8.6 more points and 40 yards per game than the Chargers. The Chargers defense allows 20.7 points to the Chiefs’ 24. They allow 356.6 yards per game to the Chiefs’ 410.7. This game has potential to come down to the wire. Both teams will be playing their hearts out, leaving nothing on the field. It will require big throws from Patrick Mahomes and Philip Rivers. Big runs from Melvin Gordon and Kareem Hunt. Big catches from Tyreek Hill and Keenan Allen. Defensive stops from the secondaries. Key sacks or tackles-for-loss. Attention to detail. Whoever wins this game might sit at the number one seed in the AFC. Whoever wins this game will possibly leave the week as favorites to reach the Super Bowl.
These are just the big games. The Chiefs have four other games they need to worry about as well and the Chargers have five. There are no guarantees in football. The Chargers know what it will take on their part to achieve. Everybody knows what has to be done. It will be an exciting stretch.
This Chargers team is full of talent. They have some of the best personnel in the entire league. We have seen a Rivers-led team enter the playoffs on a high note, only to fall short of their goals. Something about this team looks and feels different, though. They play with such chemistry and swagger. They are on a roll and are a force to be reckoned with. We will see how it plays out.
The Chargers can only focus on the Denver Broncos at the moment, however. Take it week by week.
But, teams are starting to make their playoff push. The Chargers must make theirs too.