San Diego Chargers: Breaking Down the Final Five Games of the Regular Season

Justin Peniche@justinpenicheCorrespondent INovember 30, 2013

San Diego Chargers: Breaking Down the Final Five Games of the Regular Season

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    The San Diego Chargers roller coaster season is back on an upswing.

    After losing three games in a row to Washington, Denver and Miami, the Chargers pulled off an impressive come-from-behind win last week in Kansas City.

    At 5-6, the Chargers are now among a cluster of teams vying for a final wild card playoff spot.

    With only five games remaining in the regular season, each week will have a significant impact on the Chargers' playoff hopes. 

    The Chargers host the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Giants the next two weeks before playing their final road game of the season at Denver and finishing the season at home against the Raiders and Chiefs.

    Here's a breakdown of each game and what could be on the line for the Chargers and their playoff chances.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Next up for the Chargers is the AFC North leading Cincinnati Bengals. 

    The Bengals are coming off a bye last week and have been solid with a record of 7-4.

    Defensively, the Bengals rank in the top 10 in four major categories. They are sixth in the league in both points allowed (18.7) and passing yards allowed (211.1). They rank seventh in total yards allowed (313.1) and 10th in rushing yards allowed (102).

    Offensively the Bengals rank 10th in points (25), passing yards (256.6) and total yards (364.5). They rank 20th in rushing yards with 107.9 yards per game.


    Why the Chargers can win

    Cincinnati is just 2-4 on the road this season, including consecutive losses at Miami and Baltimore.

    The Bengals have allowed 20 points or more in seven games this season, including five of their six road games.

    Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is just 3-6-1 in his career coming off a bye week and just 1-5 in road games when coming off a bye.


    How the Chargers can lose

    The Chargers rank 27th in the league against the pass, giving up 276 yards per game. Veteran Derek Cox has been a huge free agent bust, and Shareece Wright has experienced growing pains in his first year as a starter.

    Bengals receiver A.J. Green has 67 receptions for 1,020 yards and six touchdowns. Those numbers are solid for an entire season, let alone the first 11 games. 

    A weak secondary vs. an elite receiver is a recipe for disaster.


    Overall outlook

    This is a winnable game for the Chargers as the Bengals have been very beatable on the road, but they will need to keep Philip Rivers on his feet and attempt to limit Green from making too many big plays.






New York Giants

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    Following the Bengals game, the player every Chargers' fan loves to hate, Eli Manning, comes to town with the New York Giants.

    Eli and the G-men have had a tough season starting out 0-6, but have been much better of late going 4-1 over their past 5 games.

    Offensively, the Giants rank in the bottom half of the league in most categories. They rank 27th in points scored (19.4) and 24th in yards per game (323.9). In passing and rushing yards they rank 17th (235.5) and 25th (88.4) respectively.

    Defensively New York has fared better ranking 12th in overall yards (333.8), 15th against the pass (235 yards per game) and seventh against the run (98.8 yards per game). Despite their solid performance on defense, they rank 24th in points allowed with 25.5 per game.


    Why the Chargers can win

    The Giants are just 1-4 on the road and could be 1-5 if they lose at Washington this week.

    Their four wins have come against the Vikings, Eagles, Raiders and Packers who were all without their starting quarterbacks. The last time they played an entire game against a starting quarterback was in a losing effort to the Bears on October 10.

    Speaking of quarterbacks, Eli Manning is sure to draw the ire of a passionate and unforgiving San Diego crowd who hasn't forgotten when Eli's daddy said his boy wouldn't play for the Chargers if he was drafted back in 2004. 

    On defense, the Giants are susceptible to the pass which is the Chargers bread in butter. 


    How the Chargers can lose

    As mentioned in the previous slide, the Chargers secondary is awful and have a difficult time against good receivers.

    The Giants have a great receiver in Victor Cruz who already has 60 receptions for 851 yards and four touchdowns.  He is also averaging 14.2 yards per reception.

    The other issue is the Giants represent the proverbial "trap game" for the Chargers.

    Should the Chargers defeat Cincinnati this week, they will be coming off consecutive wins, be right in the thick of the playoff race and will be facing a tough division game on a short week at Denver the following Thursday. 

    It would be easy for the Chargers to take the Giants lightly and be looking ahead to the Broncos.


    Overall outlook

    The Giants have been flat out mediocre all season and have recently picked up some wins against opponents' backup quarterbacks. The Chargers should win this one at home to a myriad of fans chanting "Eli sucks, Eli sucks."




Devner Broncos

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    Week 15 features a Thursday night matchup against the Broncos in chilly Denver.

    The Broncos are 9-2 and currently occupy first place in the AFC West Division, and they are the No. 1 playoff seed in the conference.

    Offensively they rank first in points per game (39), yards per game (451.5) and passing yards per game (330.5). They rank 12th in the league in rushing with 121 yards per game.

    While ranking fifth in the league against the run (94.8 yards per game), their overall defense is near the bottom in most categories.

    Denver ranks 30th against the pass (283.2 yards per game), 26th in total yards allowed (378) and 27th in points allowed (26.3 per game).


    Why the Chargers can win

    Quarterback Peyton Manning has been lights out this season—and for most of his career—but where he's had most of his problems have been late in the season in cold-weather games.

    Kickoff temperature on that December evening could be in the low 30s and the temperature could drop to the high teens by the fourth quarter.

    With Denver's poor pass defense, they rely on Manning to make big plays late in the game, and if he can't deliver, the Chargers might be able to steal an upset.


    How the Chargers can lose

    There are many ways the Chargers can lose and most everyone will expect them too. 

    Manning may have issues in the cold, but he still has a lot of weapons in the passing game including Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Eric Decker.

    The Chargers secondary will undoubtedly struggle to contain that talented group.


    Overall outlook

    The Chargers will need this game more than the Broncos, who will likely have already clinched a playoff spot.

    Cold weather may not be enough of a factor, and the Chargers may not have enough talent to beat the Broncos in a shootout.

    If the Chargers can afford to lose one game this would be it, but a victory would put them in the driver's seat for the final playoff spot.



Oakland Raiders

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    The Chargers finish their season with two home games against division rivals starting with the Oakland Raiders.

    The Raiders have been the most consistent team in the AFC West over the past decade. The problem for them is they've been consistently bad.

    With their Thanksgiving Day loss to the Cowboys, the Raiders successfully secured their 11th consecutive non-winning season dropping to 4-8.

    As far as rankings are concerned, the Raiders are good at running the ball and stopping the run. They rank sixth in rushing yards per game with 133.1 and are 11th against the run, yielding 102.8 yards per game.

    They aren't particularly good at anything else.


    Why the Chargers can win

    The Raiders just flat out aren't' very good. They don't have any superstars on either side of the ball and are still a team early in a rebuilding process.

    Oakland is 1-5 on the road and could be 1-6 if they lose to the Jets next week.

    The Chargers can't be pleased with the Week 5 letdown they suffered in Oakland losing 27-17 so they'll be looking for some payback.


    How the Chargers can lose

    As I just mentioned, the Raiders defeated the Chargers in Week 5, so it's not inconceivable they could pull off the season sweep.

    In that game the Chargers turned the ball over five times including three Philip Rivers interceptions.

    The Raiders will be playing for their jobs and possibly playing spoiler to the Chargers playoff hopes.

    Then of course, there is the Black Hole Southern Chapter that descends on Qualcomm Stadium annually.

    San Diego's close proximity to the Raiders' former home of Los Angeles usually creates a split crowd negating actual home-field advantage.


    Overall Outlook

    The Chargers should still be in the playoff conversation while Oakland should be focusing on the draft. 

    The Raiders can't expect five turnovers in this game, and San Diego should win by two scores.






Kansas City Chiefs

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    San Diego finishes the regular season hosting the Kansas City Chiefs.

    At 9-2, the Chiefs have been the surprise story of the NFL coming off a 2-14 season in 2012.

    The problem for Kansas City is they have been exposed the past two weeks by the Broncos and Chargers. 

    After allowing just over 12 points per game en route to a 9-0 start, the Chiefs gave up 27 to the Broncos and 41 at home to the Chargers in consecutive losses.

    Despite their recent reversal in fortune, Kansas City still ranks third in the league in points allowed (16.3) and has a defense capable making big plays.

    Their offense has been mediocre all season, but has actually shown more life in their two losses than their nine wins.


    Why the Chargers can win

    For one reason, they just did. The Chargers pulled off an impressive come-from-behind victory in one of the toughest places to visit.

    The main reason the Chargers can win is because the Chiefs may have nothing to play for.

    Kansas City is headed to the postseason and by Week 17, they likely will have either clinched the division or a wild card spot.

    With their playoff destiny already decided, Andy Reid may opt to rest some of his players in preparation for postseason play.


    How the Chargers can lose

    Kansas City is still a very good football team and could still be jockeying for playoff position if the division title is still in play.

    The Chiefs went score for score with San Diego last Sunday and the last team with the ball and time won. The Chargers can ill afford to get into another battle like that and expect to come out on top.


    Overall outlook

    By this point of the season, I expect Denver to have clinched the AFC West division. They are clearly the better team and have the easier remaining schedule.

    What that means is Kansas City will have clinched the No. 5 seed and will worry more about the following week rather than Week 17.

    The Chargers at this point could very well be 9-6 or 8-7 and in desperate need of a win to keep their playoff hopes alive.

    The Chargers will finish the season strong with a win and hope the rest of the dominoes around the conference fall in their favor for a postseason berth.