Breaking Down the Chargers' Playoff Chances After Big Win on Monday Night

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Breaking Down the Chargers' Playoff Chances After Big Win on Monday Night
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Just as everyone expected, the San Diego Chargers beat the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football in Week 6. Just as everyone expected, the Colts offense didn't score a touchdown. And just as everyone expected, Andrew Luck, not Philip Rivers, threw a game-ending interception in the fourth quarter. 

Stay unpredictable, NFL

Coming into the prime-time showdown, only the Denver Broncos were averaging more yards, points and touchdowns per drive than Indianapolis, according to Football Outsiders

Conversely, per Football Outsiders, the Chargers had allowed the most yards per drive in the NFL and were 22nd in touchdowns allowed per drive. 

Sure, four Colts drops were costly—three of which were more costly than the average drop—but, in the end, the high-powered, smash mouth Indianapolis attack wasn't able to reach the end zone against one of the league's most vulnerable defenses in a 19-9 defeat. 

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

But enough about Colts.

How about the Chargers, a team many thought would be "fighting" for one of the top selections in the 2014 draft this season. 

Their win over Indianapolis put them at 3-3, smack-dab in the middle of the pack in the AFC.

The Chargers are one of five teams with a 3-3 record in the conference. Three teams are 2-4 and two teams are 4-2:

Middle of AFC Standings
Team Overall Record Division Record Conference Record
Cincinnati Bengals 4-2 1-1 3-1
Indianapolis Colts 4-2 1-0 2-2
Miami Dolphins 3-2 0-0 2-1
Baltimore Ravens 3-3 1-0 3-2
Tennessee Titans 3-3 0-1 3-2
Cleveland Browns 3-3 1-1 2-2
New York Jets 3-3 1-1 1-3
San Diego Chargers 3-3 0-1 1-3
Houston Texans 2-4 1-0 2-1
Oakland Raiders 2-4 1-2 2-3
Buffalo Bills 2-4 0-2 1-4

ESPN

In short, it seems as if the AFC is wide open. 

However, it's not as wide open as the massive collection of "mediocre" teams within two games of each other would suggest, and the proof is in San Diego's division.

Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

The Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs are both 6-0, meaning, at this point, the team that doesn't win the AFC West would appear to be bound for the top wild-card spot in the conference. 

Therefore, barring a somewhat large collapse by either the Chiefs or the Broncos—teams with three-game division leads on the Chargers at this point—an assortment of AFC clubs will be vying for only one wild-card spot down the stretch.

Although San Diego is currently the last place 3-3 team in the AFC, they'll have ample opportunity to change that over the next two months. 

Here's a look at their upcoming schedule:

San Diego Chargers Upcoming Schedule
Week Opponent
7 at Jacksonville Jaguars
8 Bye
9 at Washington Redskins
10 vs Denver Broncos
11 at Miami Dolphins
12 at Kansas City Chiefs
13 vs Cincinnati Bengals
14 vs New York Giants
15 at Denver Broncos
16 vs Oakland Raiders
17 vs Kansas City Chiefs

ESPN

While the Chargers' most recent victory on the national stage reaffirmed the idea that the NFL is essentially impossible to predict, let's run through each game left on San Diego's schedule.

  • at Jacksonville Jaguars - The Jaguars played the mighty Broncos tough in Denver. But this is a game the Chargers should win on the road— it's probably the "easiest" road game in football this season.
  • at Washington Redskins - It's hard to gauge the Redskins, as Robert Griffin III is playing a bit better, but not up to the level in which he showed as a rookie. Washington's defense has struggled mightily in all areas.
  • vs Denver Broncos - Clearly, the most difficult home game of the year. In all likelihood, the Chargers offense will have to score more than 30 points to win.
  • at Miami Dolphins - Ryan Tannehill is one of the league's better young quarterbacks, and Cameron Wake is an elite pass-rusher. Miami's offensive line is its most glaring weak spot. 
  • at Kansas City Chiefs - The Chiefs are getting it done with the NFL's most stingy defense, game-managing quarterback play from Alex Smith and efficient running from Jamaal Charles. In Kansas City, this game will be a nice barometer for the Chargers. 
  • vs Cincinnati Bengals - Although the Bengals are leading the AFC North through six weeks, this game could have major wild-card implications. 
  • vs New York Giants - The Giants have been an absolute mess this season. At home, the Chargers have to take care of business. 
  • at Denver Broncos - Easily, the most difficult contest on the schedule. The Broncos could be playing for playoff positioning—home-field advantage—in the playoffs at this point. 
  • vs Oakland Raiders - The Raiders aren't exactly the pushover they used to be mainly due to the development of ultra-athletic quarterback Terrelle Pryor and an underrated defense.
  • vs Kansas City Chiefs - The final game of the season rarely decides a team's playoff fate, but with the jumbled AFC, a win and the Chargers could be in. A loss and they could be out. 

Based on what we've seen from every team in the first six weeks of the season, the Chargers' remaining schedule wouldn't be considered a walk in the park, but it's not ridiculously difficult, either. 

While absolutely nothing is guaranteed in today's parity-driven NFL, let's assume for the sake of the argument that the Chargers will beat the currently winless Jaguars and Giants. 

Beyond that, San Diego will likely have to go 5-3 in the other eight games to reach a final regular-season record of 10-6. 

Is it possible? 

Well, a myriad of factors will play into the Chargers' chances to reach the postseason, but at least their quarterback is playing at an extremely high level. 

Here's a peak at Rivers' statistics before Week 7's tilt with the Jaguars:

Philip Rivers' 2013 Season
Completion % (Rank) Accuracy % (Rank) Yards Per Attempt (Rank) TD % (Rank) QB Rating (Rank)
72.6 (2) 81.1 (2) 8.28 (4) 6.3 (3) 108.7 (2)

ESPN and ProFootballFocus

(*Accuracy percentage is a Pro Football Focus (subscription required) metric that "accounts for dropped passes, throw aways, spiked balls, batted passes, and passes where the quarterback was hit while they threw the ballfactors that hurt the quarterback's completion percentage but don't help show how accurate they are.")

No player is more vital or more individually impactful to a team's success than the quarterback. 

Rivers' revitalization under head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt should be encouraging for the Chargers. If the signal-caller's tremendous play continues, San Diego will be in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt in late December. 

 

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