While the big win in New York was obviously a solid plus for the San Diego Chargers, several other games around the AFC shaped up with beneficial results as well.
The Chargers have some tough opponents to come in the Cowboys (whom I had hoped were going to be starting their annual descent about this time), the Bengals (who checked them as a worry point at the season’s outset?), the Eagles (they can have mixed results, but are certainly a tough team that will be angry about last week), as well as a Titans team looking somewhat rejuvenated now, and a head-to-head with the Broncos in Denver, so any chance of picking up games must be utilized.
Here’s a look at a few games impacting the Chargers:
Miami was not a serious playoff threat, but rather a team on the outside looking for a big win to jump into the playoff picture.
The drop-off of the Jets has New England holding a firm grasp on the division, so any Pats victories are not likely to impact the Chargers aside from when they would have to face each other in the playoffs.
Miami is now essentially out of the running, one less concern should they be looking for a wild-card berth instead of a division crown.
Cincinnati defeats Baltimore
I feel pretty confident that whoever does not take the division between the Steelers and Bengals will be holding one of the two wildcard slots. This divisional race might not be decided until the final week.
The Ravens appear to be a more direct competition for the remaining wildcard slot. They are a tough team capable of some big victories (see Denver last week), but a monster of a division does them no favors.
This loss leaves Baltimore a game back of the Chargers with both the Steelers and a Colts game on the books. The downside would be that the Ravens also face the Raiders, Browns, Lions, and two teams on slides—the Packers and Bears.
Colts top Texans
Like the Patriots, Indianapolis has a firm hold on the division. Houston has the looks of a contender this year, and a win would have edged them a half game over San Diego at 6-3.
Instead, with an extra loss and an equal number of wins, they now rest a half game below San Diego in the wildcard picture, and look to be the toughest competition for that final Wildcard berth.
Unfortunately, they have a very favorable second half schedule with six of the eight games against sub-.500 teams.
Steelers defeat Denver
Aside from San Diego’s own victory, this was the most important game of the weekend. Two weeks ago, the Broncos were world-beaters, a game or two away from putting a choke-hold on the division.
Now having run into the brick wall that is the AFC North division, they have slipped to a one-game lead over San Diego.
Beyond the simple effect of picking up a game on the Broncos however, the back-to-back losses have taken some of the Broncos' swagger away.
I really have a hard time seeing a collapse akin to last year, the team is more stable and the schedule more favorable (three games against the Chiefs and Raiders remain, as well as one against Washington).
This does take the ‘we can take on anyone’ element away from Denver, though. The few cracks beginning to show may be the difference it will take to wrestle the division back into San Diego’s possession.
With the second half of the season about to commence, every game will grow in importance. San Diego must look at both the divisional and wild card races and cannot afford to become myopic; and in those races, this weekend shaped up to near perfection.
Baltimore, Denver, and Houston are now within one game of San Diego, be they in front or behind, so any defeat against those teams will be just as important as San Diego victories. Good luck and go Chargers!