The LA Chargers lost to the Denver Broncos in disappointing fashion in Week 12 to move to 6-5 on the season. The Bolts have another road game in Week 13 that is going to have massive playoff implications as they are taking on the 7-4 Cincinnati Bengals.
This game would not be as consequential for the Chargers if they too were entering with a 7-4 record. However, because they are 6-5 and have lost to three AFC teams, a loss in Week 13 would give the Chargers a hard hill to climb. That is, at least, based on our predictions for the rest of the AFC playoff picture in the final six weeks.
Historically, a 6-5 record does not favor a team making the playoffs. While this year is different than any other year as it is a 17-game season and only the second year with seven playoff teams in each conference, the numbers still are not favorable for the Chargers (nor any 6-5 team for that matter). The Bolts losing in Week 12 had a big negative impact on their playoff chances in 2021.
The LA Chargers playoff chances with a 6-5 record:
Since the NFL-AFL merger (excluding the incomplete 1982 and 1987 seasons) there have been 199 teams to start the season with a 6-5 record. Of those 199, only 38.2% (76) actually make the playoffs. The Bolts have started with a 6-5 record six times before and have made the playoffs in three of those six times.
The difference between a 6-5 and 7-4 start is huge historically. There have been 216 teams to start with a 7-4 record and of those 216, 144 (66.7%) ended up making the playoffs. The playoff chances are exponentially higher, however the Chargers have a weird history. They have started 7-4 four times in franchise history and have only made the playoffs once.
But every year is different and this year presents a crowded AFC playoff picture. According to the New York Times' NFL Playoff Tracker, the LA Chargers have a 55% chance of making the playoffs in 2021. That might seem great, but the Bolts had a 75% chance of making the playoffs at one point and saw their chances drop by 12% by losing to the Broncos.
Losing to the Bengals would only drop those chances further and the LA Chargers might have to kiss the playoffs goodbye entirely.
What hurts the Bolts' case, even more, is the way they have played this season. While the Chargers are currently in a playoff position they have not played like a true playoff team. They rank 16th in the league in Football Outsider's DVOA and 19th in Pro-Football-Reference's Simple Rating System.
The Chargers are the only team in the top seven in AFC with a negative point differential, checking in at -20. The Washington Football team is the only other team currently in a playoff spot that also has a negative point differential. While the win-loss record is all that truly matters, point differential can be a really telling sign.
There have been 564 playoff teams since the NFL-AFL merger. Of those 564, only 46 (8%) had a negative point differential. Of those 46, only 34 (6%) had a negative point differential in double-digits and only 20 (3.5%) had a point differential of -20 or worse. Granted, the Chargers can swing the point differential back to the positive side of the things in the final six games of the season but if they lose even two of those games they will likely finish in the negative.
All of these numbers historically seem to indicate that the LA Chargers do not have much of a chance of making the playoffs in 2021. Fans better hope that the team starts to turn around its play and does so quickly.