Are the Los Angeles Chargers playoff contenders?

Nov 27, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) celebrates after making a touchdown pass during the second quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 27, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) celebrates after making a touchdown pass during the second quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

Are playoffs realistic for the Los Angeles Chargers in 2017?’s Gregg Rosenthal certainly believes so.

The New England Patriots are the best of the best in the AFC. Everybody already knows that.

But what about the other 15 teams? Can anybody take down a loaded and smartly-coached Patriots team in 2017?

In’s Gregg Rosenthal’s “AFC Offseason Overhaul,” he put the Super Bowl 51 champions at the top of his list followed by four teams he described as “playoffs or bust.” Those four teams included the Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs.

Below that group were four teams he believes will contend. That group consisted of the Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals and our beloved Los Angeles Chargers. Here’s Rosenthal’s reasoning for putting the Chargers in that group:

“Get ready for Chargers hype. The offseason was quiet, but the roster has difference makers throughout–and a quarterback ready to make the sentimental run that Tony Romo never could.”

The quarterback he’s talking about is Philip Rivers (duh), who, in my eyes, is a future Hall of Famer. Rivers has turned the ball over more often than not as of late (career-high 21 interceptions in 2016), but he’s ultimately kept his team in games over the past several years despite having mediocre talent and injury-riddled teammates around him. Several coaching changes hasn’t been beneficial either.

But after inheriting a talent-deprived team back in 2013, general manager Tom Telesco has done a solid job in both free agency and the draft to help make the Chargers relevant again. Sure, he’s made some mistakes when assessing talent, but his youthful squad is talented.

In the end, success comes down to coaching. Hopefully, new head coach Anthony Lynn, an aggressive, hard-nosed coach who offers a different mentality than former coaches Mike McCoy and Norv Turner, can bring the best out of each player by motivating and disciplining them.

The way I see it, the Chargers can make the playoffs if these five things happen:

Note: Excludes coaching, which was already stated as the most important ingredient for winning.

  1. STAY HEALTHY. The Chargers had a league-high 21 players on injured reserve last season, per ESPN’s Eric Williams. Key starters like No. 1 receiver Keenan Allen and No. 1 cornerback Jason Verrett missed majority of the season. Still, the Chargers were competitive in all but two games. Of their 11 losses, only two were more than one-score games (Week 14’s 28-16 loss to the Panthers and Week 17’s 37-27 loss to the Chiefs)–and that was with a ton of backups on the field. It showed that the Chargers have quality depth at several positions, but those losses could turn to wins when impact players are healthy.
  2. CREATE AN AVERAGE O-LINE. It doesn’t have to be great, it just can’t be one of the worst units in the league. According to Pro Football Focus, the Chargers’ O-line ranked in the bottom 25 the past three years (29th in ’14, 32nd in ’15 and 31st in ’16). In 2013, the Chargers had the 18th-best offensive line, which also marked the last time they made the playoffs (coincidence?). If Rivers is given some sort of time, and running back Melvin Gordon isn’t met by defenders the very second he is given the ball, the sky is the limit for the Chargers’ offense.
  3. CLOSE OUT GAMES. According to ESPN, the Chargers led at one point in all but one game, as well as led in the fourth quarter in six of their games, all of which resulted in losses (SAD). That can’t happen, and if it does happen again, the team better make room on injured reserve for the fans, all of whom will be diagnosed with concussions after slamming their heads against the wall in disappointment and disgust.
  4. RELY ON THE RUNNING GAME AND DEFENSE. It’s been Rivers’ team, and the 35-year-old veteran is still playing at a high level; but maybe it’s time to pass the torch over to Gordon. Lynn, a former running backs coach and offensive coordinator who helped lead the Bills to the top rushing attack two years in a row (2015-16), is going to want to run the ball hard. Rivers can still be a clutch performer, but taking the pressure off of him will lead to less turnovers. Let Gordon lead the way, and let a star-studded defense led by Defensive Rookie of the Year Joey Bosa carry Rivers to glory (a page out of the Peyton Manning playbook).
  5. HAVE A GOOD DRAFT. Telesco and the Chargers had arguably their best draft in years in 2016, which is why many analysts are high on the Chargers this year. They have three major needs at safety, offensive line and defensive line, but outside of that, they are in pretty good shape. The Chargers will be getting many players back from injury (it’s like another draft in itself), which is likely the reason why the only splash they made in free agency was signing LT Russell Okung. If the Bolts, who hold the No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, can find success again, then how can you not like this team?

It’s not the first time the words “Chargers” and “playoffs” have been associated together. Rosenthal’s colleague, Chris Wesseling, said the Chargers are playoff contenders back in January. It’s not going to be easy, though, given that the Chargers have the third-toughest schedule in the NFL and play in arguably the toughest division in the AFC West.

But if the Chargers want to win the battle for L.A., then winning football games and making the playoffs in Year 1 will help them reach that goal. Even Rivers knows it.