The Chargers appeared to be well on their way to earning a playoff before Week 16. Then, they allowed 41 points in a loss to the Texans. Now, they are on the outside of the bubble in a jam-packed AFC playoff race.
There are eight teams in the AFC that have either eight or nine wins entering Week 17. While a few are competing for division titles, only three members of that group will earn Wild Card spots. That leaves little to no margin for error for the teams within that group.
That includes the Chargers. They were once favored to be the No. 5 seed in the conference, but consecutive losses have dropped them to the fringe. They have two divisional games upcoming against the Broncos and Raiders, and the battle with the eight-win Raiders figures to be particularly important in the playoff race.
The Chargers certainly can make the playoffs. They have one of the best young quarterbacks in the game in Justin Herbert, after all. But these final two games will definitely test them, and if they aren’t prepared to slow down each team’s rushing attack, they could end up being surprising omissions from the 2022 NFL playoffs.
Here’s the Chargers’ easiest path to a playoff berth in 2021.
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1. Chargers likely need to win out, finish 10-7 to make the postseason
Even going undefeated down the stretch wouldn’t guarantee the Chargers a spot in the playoffs. It would, however, give them a 79 percent chance to make the tournament, according to the New York Times. Comparatively, if they lose both games, they have less than a 1 percent chance to go to the postseason and if they split the games, their odds drop to 17 or 18 percent.
As such, the Chargers need to focus on winning both of their games to make the playoffs. The AFC is just so crowded that if they drop a game, several other teams will have a chance to pass them. And getting the exact combination of teams to lose that gets them in with a 9-8 record is a tall ask.
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2. Chargers need the Ravens, Dolphins to each lose once
If the Chargers can go 2-0 in their final two games, their easiest path to the playoffs involves two teams losing at least once: the Ravens and the Dolphins.
Currently, the Dolphins are the No. 7 seed in the AFC playoff race while the Ravens are the No. 8 seed. The Chargers are the No. 9 and while all three teams have the same record, the Chargers are behind both in terms of tiebreakers; the Dolphins have the advantage in common games while the Ravens beat the Chargers head-to-head. As such, the only way Los Angeles can jump either is by finishing with a better record than them.
The Dolphins are playing the Titans and Patriots to close the season while the Ravens are playing the Rams and Steelers. Both teams could easily go 1-1 which would leave the door open for the Chargers. But if all three teams go 2-0, the Chargers would have just a 26 percent chance of making the playoffs.
And if the Chargers go 1-1 and the others go 2-0, the Chargers will miss the playoffs.
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NFL playoff picture 2021
|1.||Kansas City Chiefs||11-4||AFC West|
|6.||New England Patriots||9-6||N/a|
In the hunt: Ravens (8-7), Chargers (8-7), Raiders (8-7), Steelers (7-7-1), Browns (7-8), Broncos (7-8)
|1.||Green Bay Packers||12-3||NFC North|
|2.||Dallas Cowboys||11-4||NFC East|
|3.||Los Angeles Rams||11-4||Playoff berth|
|4.||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||11-4||NFC South|
|5.||Arizona Cardinals||10-5||Playoff berth|
|6.||San Francisco 49ers||8-7||N/a|
In the hunt: Vikings (7-8), Saints (7-8), Falcons (7-8)