The LA Chargers had a chance to stay in the driver's seat for the AFC West crown in Week 10 and squandered that opportunity. The Bolts lost 27-20 to the Minnesota Vikings, putting the Chargers at a 5-4 record through nine games.
While this is ugly after a 4-1 start, this is right around where the expectations should have been this season. Let's not forget that this is a young team in the first year of a new head coaching regime. This year always felt like the appetizer before the main course in 2022. However, with so much early success, you hate to see the team not capitalize.
While there is still plenty of football left to play and the Chargers could very well run the gauntlet and win out (not likely, but possible), the difference between a 6-3 record and 5-4 record has been massive historically.
Granted, this is the first year of a 17-game season and only the second year with seven playoff teams in each conference. However, with the AFC being murky and crowded, the difference between 6-3 and 5-4 would have been even bigger.
The difference between the LA Chargers being 5-4 instead of 6-3:
Before we look at the history, let's just look at the AFC playoff picture. As it currently stands, the Chargers would be the seventh seed in the playoffs if the season ended today. However, the Cincinnati Bengals and Las Vegas Raiders both also have 5-4 records, giving the Chargers little margin for error.
The Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos all have five wins as well, all of which have 5-5 records. The Chargers have also relinquished first place to the Kansas City Chiefs, who looked more like themselves in Week 10 against the Raiders.
The Chiefs weren't going to play horrible forever. While they are not the same unbeatable presence that they once were, they were always going to finish with at least 10 wins. That is why it was so important for the Chargers to win games against teams like the Vikings.
Baltimore and New England are excusable. Those are good teams. The Vikings are a beatable team and the Chargers laid an egg.
If the Bolts want any chance of winning the AFC West they are going to have to beat the Chiefs and at the very worst finish the season on a 6-2 run to end up with an 11-6 record. That is the floor for the Chargers to win the AFC West. A 6-2 run feels a lot harder than a 5-3 run.
Historically, the Chargers' playoff chances dipped significantly with a loss. Since the NFL-AFL merger, and excluding the two strike seasons in the 1980s, there have been 225 teams to start with a 6-3 record. Of those 225, 70.7% have made the playoffs and 10 won the Super Bowl.
The Chargers have started with a 6-3 record just six times in franchise history, making the playoffs in five of those seasons.
Meanwhile, there have been 244 teams to start with a 5-4 record in the same time frame. Of those 244, only 42.6% have made the playoffs and two have won the Super Bowl. The playoff difference is nearly 30%. That is awful.
Only five other Charger teams have started the season with a 5-4 record. One made the playoffs.
Week 10 could have been a launching pad for the LA Chargers to gain some confidence, gain some momentum and establish their position as a true playoff team in the AFC. Instead, after a performance like we saw in Week 10, I'm not sure the team will even be in a playoff position in 3 weeks time.