Yes folks, it is time for an installment of Pete’s Positive Playoff Picture. Every week or so, I get my pom-poms out, give you my best “homer cheer”, and try to get people excited about this team making the playoffs. Ironically, there has been some recent outcry from readers that there has been a “doom & gloom” element from the writers & commenters on this site, when it comes to discussing our playoff chances. I have written a few pieces like this over the last month, but they got overshadowed by back-to-back-to-back losses to Washington, Denver, and Miami. I can’t really blame people for not being excited to post positive comments during those defeats. Things looked bleak, at best. People didn’t have much hope for the season, and we were headed on the road to play the 9-1 Chiefs in “the loudest outdoor stadium in the world” last Sunday. Well, the Chargers managed to talk their fans off of the ledge for at least one more week.
The Chargers pulled out a nail-biting victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, keeping their playoff hopes alive! This was a much needed divisional win, and also a conference win. The AFC is replete with 4 & 5 win teams this season, and few teams seem to be totally out of the race. The Chargers went from being behind a ton of teams last week, to being behind just 3 teams this week. I said in my last article that if we could beat the Kansas City Chiefs, I would feel much better about them staying alive. The Chargers not only won, but play 4 out of the last 5 games at home. When your playoff chances are THIS thin, and you have some tough teams to play, having home field advantage is huge!
The next game up is another tough one. The Chargers will be hosting the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. There was talk of this game possibly being blacked out, if the Chiefs beat us. Let’s hope that this is no longer the case. Cincinnati is sitting in first place in their division, has a great defense, and a high powered offense. Andy Dalton, AJ Green, and rookie running back sensation Gio Bernard will be yet another tall task for our defense. Before Sunday’s game, I probably couldn’t have given you much comfort that we could win this game. However, the Chargers have finally taken some big leaps offensively. This now gives them the ability to compete with the Bengals, and secure another must-win home game.
On Sunday, the Chargers finally ended their red zone woes, in Arrowhead stadium. They stopped being stubborn, and got Ryan Mathews involved at the goal line, where he did his patented “Superman Leap” for his 3rd TD (I love that move!). They also got Ladarius Green more involved, and (once again) it paid off big time with a 60+ yard TD. Woodhead was also used properly, came on strong during the final drive, and tallied two TD’s himself. They even put Tutu out there, and he made that amazing game-ending catch. Almost everything we had been begging for as fans was executed at once, and it resulted in one of the best games Charger fans have seen in years! The offense was firing on all cylinders, and running like a well-oiled machine. Rivers was playing like his old pro-bowl self, spreading the ball out to 8 different receivers. The defense was atrocious, but the offense managed to overcome their deficiencies by putting on a highlight reel performance.
If the Chargers defense can step up just a LITTLE bit more, it would make all the difference in the world. If they can keep the ref’s laundry off of the field, make an extra stop or two, get an extra turnover, make better tackles, force more field goals, or even “actually” cover somebody…. this team could definitely make the playoffs. However, if this team keeps up with the “Jekyll & Hyde” roller-coaster routine, they will not. Cincinnati is very capable of keeping up with San Diego in a shootout, so these key defensive stands are most important. They are going to be in front of the home crowd, and need to give their fans a win. They deserve it, after watching the Chargers let a very winnable Broncos home game slip away, with horribly conservative play calling.
The feeling is that we can beat the Giants, The Raiders, and the Chiefs at home. The only road game we have is in Denver on Thursday Night Football. It will be our toughest game left, and it will be on national television. But, we can feel a little bit better about this game, as the Chargers offense played so well against a top rated Chiefs defense in Arrowhead. Not to mention, we gave the Broncos a close run for their money a few weeks ago. I’m sure Philip Rivers will be looking for revenge in Mile High. It will be tough, but we just watched The Patriots hand Denver a “Charger-esque” meltdown of their own. We all saw the Broncos blow a 24-0 halftime lead, and allow 31 unanswered second half points, before losing in overtime. By the way, where are all those Bronco fans who were saying that “only the Chargers are capable of blowing that kind of lead”. To them I say “Touché, senior Burro”.
The clear path to the playoffs is to win out, obviously. But, we have had quite a bit of help from other teams. As the Chargers were losing games, so were the Jets, Titans, Dolphins, and Browns. Unfortunately, the Steelers & Ravens managed to string together some wins, and move ahead of us in the race. To make it even more complicated, they play each other this weekend. The Steelers are technically ahead, so we could root for them to lose. However, the Ravens are doing better in the conference. So, depending on how the next few weeks play out, and who we lose to, that could affect tie-breaker scenarios. So… basically… pick your poison. The Titans play at Indianapolis, and lost the home game to them a few weeks ago. We will all be rooting for Andrew Luck, once again. The good news is that at least one of the teams above us will lose, and we will inch closer, if we win.
Another interesting thing to think about is the Kansas City Chiefs “state of affairs”. After going on a hot 9 game winning streak, where they were beating bad teams, they have dropped their last two to the Broncos & Chargers. I know it is a long shot, but could they possibly lose out the season? If they did, that would free up TWO wild-card spots!
Before you say “you’re insane, Pete”…think about it. They are in the opposite situation that we are. They only play 2 home games in their last 5 games, and three divisional opponents. The home games are Denver this Sunday, and the Indianapolis Colts. Those aren’t really easy opponents, in my opinion. They also play the Raiders in the black hole, the Redskins in Washington, and the Chargers in week 17. That final game could potentially have HUGE playoff implications, if the Chargers win out, and the Chiefs continue their losing streak. The Chiefs will be forced to do this without Justin Houston, and Tamba Hali. Those players were the top two reasons why they were able to finish a lot of close games in the 4th quarter this year. The Raiders aren’t great, but kept it close on the road in Arrowhead. The Redskins look pretty bad, but managed to beat us when we went out there. Can you imagine if the bottom fell out on KC? That would completely change the playoff picture!
I’ll end this off how I usually do. The best way for the Chargers to get to the playoffs is to keep winning. They have a tough schedule, but they clearly haven’t given up. As long as they haven’t given up, neither will I. But, they have to show us that they aren’t that team who destroyed the Steelers in Pittsburgh last year, only to come back and lay an egg at home against Carolina. They need to beat the Bengals, and head into Denver with some confidence. Even if they lose to the Bengals, or lose in Denver, they still wouldn’t be totally out of it. So, I will keep the torch burning for all of the “dreamers” out there. Please feel free to join me in the comments section below.
Keep Bolting Toward Excellence!