The LA Chargers defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 9 via a game-winning Dustin Hopkins field goal with five seconds to play. While a game in Week 9 is hard to call a must-win, this was about as much of a must-win that a team could have halfway through the season.
The Chargers were coming off of two ugly losses against the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots and really needed a W to capitalize on the Las Vegas Raiders losing and to keep pace ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Another loss here would have put the Bolts at 4-4. While 4-4 is manageable for a playoff run, a 5-3 record puts them in a much better position to go on a run, make the playoffs and perhaps even win the division.
History agrees with this sentiment. Even though it is only one game, the difference between a 5-3 record and a 4-4 record has been massive historically.
The historical impact of the LA Chargers starting with a 5-3 record:
Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, excluding the strike seasons in 1982 and 1987, there have been 158 teams in the NFL to start the season with a 5-3 record. Of those 158 teams, 61.2% made the playoffs and only 17% finished with a losing record.
While there is still a lot of time in the season to go either way, the fact that three-fifths of 5-3 teams make the playoffs bodes really well for the Bolts, especially considering the toughest part of the schedule is now behind them.
The drop-off for 4-4 teams is quite stark. There have been 79 teams that have started with a 4-4 record and of those 79 only 28.9% make the playoffs. The majority of 5-3 teams make the playoffs while a quarter of the 4-4 teams make the playoffs. That is a massive difference.
The Chargers have been mostly successful in franchise history when they start with a 5-3 record as well. Six Charger teams before 2021 started with a 5-3 record and four made the playoffs. The 2001 Chargers, though, finished with a 5-11 record, tying the 2019 Carolina Panthers for the worst finish with a 5-3 start.
That definitely won't happen to the 2021 LA Chargers. That much I can guarantee.
Meanwhile, 14 prior Charger teams have started with a 4-4 record. Of those 14, only four made the playoffs and five had a winning record.
While every single year is different and the LA Chargers can rewrite history depending on what happens, the eighth game of the season really does seem to be a separator between playoff teams and playoff hopefuls.
History tells us the LA Chargers are a playoff team.