If Chargers can close out games, they have a good chance in weak AFC
By Matt Pagels
Despite a plethora of injuries, the San Diego Chargers are playing well. Conservative play-calling and boneheaded mistakes in the fourth quarter resulted in four heartbreaking losses, but if the Chargers (2-4) can close out games, they will be a threat in a weak AFC.
We’re six weeks through the 2016-17 NFL season, and it’s been a roller-coaster ride to say the least. Not only should the NFL be cautious of players suffering concussions, but they should also watch out for the fans, because I can vouch that all Chargers fans have been slamming their heads against the wall in frustration when the fourth quarter comes and goes.
Anyway.. I decided to take a look and see what was going on in the rest of the conference.
My first thought: Who’s dominant and who’s not? The quick answer to that question: The New England Patriots and nobody else.
The Patriots are 5-1, and Tom Brady is still doing Tom Brady-like things. He’s thrown for 782 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions in just two games. New England’s defense is doing its job, too, allowing just 15.2 points per game, which is good for second-best in the league.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were right under the Patriots, but with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out for a decent amount of time with a torn meniscus, they are not at that level. I mean, they just lost to the Miami Dolphins, and the Dolphins are not a good football team.
Teams that are above .500 are the Buffalo Bills (4-2), the Denver Broncos (4-2), the Oakland Raiders (4-2) and the Kansas City Chiefs (3-2). After losing their first two games, the Bills are on fire, winning four in a row. They had a commanding win over Carson Palmer and the Cardinals in Week 3 and shut out a Jimmy Garoppolo-led Patriots team in Week 4. While those were impressive wins, they beat up on two mediocre-to-below-average teams in the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers. The Bills play their next three-of-four games on the road, including two games against divisional opponents (Dolphins on the road and Patriots at home) and a tough matchup in Seattle on Monday Night Football. LeSean McCoy is having a bounce-back year, so let’s see what they’re made of.
You could argue that the AFC West is the toughest division in the AFC–or even in the entire NFL–and the Chargers’ divisional opponents’ records support that statement. The Bolts could be on top, but they blew it against the Chiefs and Raiders. Thankfully, they came away with a win against the Broncos, snapping the Chargers’ 10-game losing streak against divisional opponents in the process. The Broncos have an elite defense, but their offense has been underperforming thanks to poor quarterback play.
The Raiders have their best start since 2002, but it’s not like they’re dominating teams. All four of their wins have been by less than a touchdown, including two last-minute comeback wins against the New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens. They only scored 10 points in Sunday’s loss against the Chiefs, and if Derek Carr and their offense can’t get the job done, don’t expect their 32-ranked defense to carry them to the promised land.
The Chiefs are inconsistent. They get blown out by a first-place team in the Steelers one week, then take down another first-place team in the Raiders the following week. They are running the ball very well with Spencer Ware, and even Jamaal Charles had a touchdown while being eased back into action. Again, we don’t know what we’re going to get with this team, but they are better than majority of teams in the AFC.
The AFC South is bad, and only one team will likely make it to the playoffs by winning the division, so let’s take away the other three teams right there. The Jets, who finished with 10 wins last season, got embarrassed by the Cardinals on Monday and now stand at 1-5. I don’t think they can come back from that, especially with the way they’ve been playing. Yeah, the Dolphins beat a banged up Steelers team, but don’t expect Jay Ajayi to ever run for 200 yards ever again. Ryan Tannehill certainly won’t lead this team to the playoffs.
Speaking of the AFC North, it might be a toss up now that the Steelers don’t have Big Ben, but I still think the Steelers win the division because of the way the rest of those teams have been playing–and the fact that they have more talent on both sides of the ball. The Cincinnati Bengals, who made the playoffs the last five years, look like they are still recovering from their latest first-round playoff exit (and loss of talent), while the Ravens, who started out 3-0, have dropped three straight. They suffer from close-loss syndrome as well. The Cleveland Browns–well, at least Cleveland has the Indians and Cavaliers to give that city hope.
So where does that leave us? It’s very early on, but aside from the Patriots, Steelers (with Roethlisberger), Bills and the rest of the AFC West (occasionally), the Chargers have looked like the best team in the AFC. According to NFL.com, the Chargers have led in 62.9 percent of their games, with only four other teams having the lead more often. They have also outscored opponents in the first halves of games by 57 points. It’s on coach Mike McCoy to lead them to victory, something many fans can’t see happening.
” While the Chargers’ inability to close out games combines tragedy and comedy like some Vonnegut novel, I am not giving up on this team. They have oceans of talent on both sides of the ball despite all their injuries. They have been leading by an average of 6.3 points in their games, good for second in the league entering Sunday.” – Around The NFL Editor Gregg Rosenthal
After playing arguably the best defense in the NFL last week, the Chargers head to Atlanta to face the top-ranked offense in the Falcons. The Falcons are 4-2 after losing to the Seattle Seahawks in questionable fashion. They are going to be fired up.
But so should the Chargers, who hopefully broke their curse after closing out their first game of the season. Halfway through the 2013 season, I remember former coach Herm Edwards was the only one of a handful of analysts to pick the Chargers to make the playoffs; they ended up doing just that. Yesterday on Sportscenter, the topic of who will win the AFC West came up, and Edwards said, “Don’t rule out the Chargers.”
Maybe Herm is on to something.