Since the Kansas City Chiefs lost in Week 16, the Los Angeles Chargers still have a shot at the first seed. So, there is plenty of work to do this week and next weekend against the Denver Broncos.
After the loss to the Baltimore Ravens, followed by a loss for the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers still have a chance for the top spot in the AFC playoffs. However, it will require both a Chargers win and a Chiefs loss. The Chiefs loss seems to be unlikely, as they will play the lowly Oakland Raiders.
This creates a unique situation. Getting a playoff bye week is important, as the last team to win the Super Bowl after playing on Wild Card weekend was the 2012 Baltimore Ravens. However, as mentioned above, a win is unlikely to get the Chargers into the first seed. Making the situation more unique is the fact that there is an argument to be made that the Chargers will be better off without the first seed. So what can and should the Chargers do this week to take advantage of this situation?
Limit snap counts for two players
Although the difference between the first seed and the fifth seed is significant, the health of key players is likely more important.
Against the Ravens, Melvin Gordon looked effective, but he came limping off the field after a couple of carries. If he is not fully healthy by this weekend, why not go with Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome? The game against the Pittsburgh Steelers showed how effective that duo can be, so the Chargers should rely on them if Gordon is not 100 percent.
Another player to consider playing on a limited snap count is Antonio Gates. While Gates was effective against the Ravens, he looked tired at times. Could it have had a factor in his late-game fumble? While that is unclear, it is clear that the Chargers need a rested Gates for the playoffs.
Consider signing an experienced interior lineman
In the playoffs, you need experienced backups, especially at important positions. Last year Nick Foles proved this fact. In the interior of the offensive line, the Chargers do not have such depth.
The rookie duo of Cole Toner and Scott Quessenberry are not a group to rely on during the playoffs. While Forrest Lamp could become an elite option, his first real NFL experience should not be in the playoffs. The Chargers will not get backups as talented as Foles at this point, but there are still some players worth giving tryouts.
Three names to look at are Tim Barnes, Jahri Evans, and Alex Boone. All are available and have recent starting experience. Although it is certainly possible that they are not in NFL game shape, Tom Telesco should see what these players can do right now.
The Chargers have a week to get any player into Ken Whisenhunt’s system, so this scouting needs to occur now if a signing is possible.
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Have an efficient offensive showing
Last week, the Chargers’ offense was mainly to blame for the loss. While the defense gave up a lot of yards, they had multiple red-zone stops. While the Broncos’ defense is not on par with that of the Ravens, it still poses a decent threat.
Against this group, the Chargers’ offense needs to get back into its usual rhythm. Particularly, Philip Rivers needs to get back to playing the aggressive, turnover-free football that got him into MVP consideration earlier in the season.
That Rivers will be necessary to get to the Super Bowl. This game will be a great test of if he will be able to step up in important games and get back into that rhythm.
Hopefully, the Chargers make decisions that will take advantage of this unique situation. At this point, Anthony Lynn is going to be responsible for making these choices. Regardless of the final decisions, Lynn knows this team best, and his decisions should be trusted, as he brought the team this far.