A realistic way-too-early look at the Chargers' playoff chances in 2024

Los Angeles Charges OTA Offseason Workout
Los Angeles Charges OTA Offseason Workout / Harry How/GettyImages

The LA Chargers are entering a new era with a new head coach. After a trio of disastrous first-time head coach hires, Los Angeles spent big and hired National Championship-winning head coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh has won everywhere he has coached as he now looks to change the Chargers' culture.

Given Harbaugh's track record and the fact he has an elite quarterback in Justin Herbert, expectations are high for the Bolts. Los Angeles' 2024 schedule is much easier than last year, leading many fans to believe this team will make the playoffs.

As great as it is to look at the glass-half-full, is it reasonable to expect the Chargers to go from a 5-12 team to making the playoffs in the crowded AFC? There are many variables that still need to settle before the 2024 season begins, but let's dive into the early outlook.

2024 Chargers playoff odds

What the playoff models say:

Models cannot predict the future but they can do a great job at taking bias out of the equation to provide a more comprehensive outlook. ESPN recently unveiled its NFL Football Power Index (FPI) for the 2024 season and it is not as favorable for the Chargers as fans are.

The Chargers rank 18th in the FPI rankings and are projected to finish with 8.8 wins. This projection gives the Chargers a 47.2% chance of making the playoffs. It appears the Bolts have much more of a coinflip chance of making the playoffs than fans realize.

The betting odds leading into the season tell the same story. Los Angeles has plus odds at just about every book and is right around the league median. The Bolts are projected to be right around the middle of the pack, for better or worse.

Chargers' most-likely competitors for a playoff spot:

The Kansas City Chiefs are obviously the biggest hurdle the Chargers have to overcome. Barring any freak injuries, the AFC West is the Chiefs' to lose, at least for the 2024 season. Kansas City isn't a reasonable competitor for an AFC playoff spot as there are other fringe playoff teams the Chargers should be concerned with instead.

Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills have dominated the AFC East in recent years but that domination is not guaranteed in 2024. Buffalo looked more human last season and has to adapt to life without Stefon Diggs next season. The Bills will undoubtedly be in the playoff mix next season, it is just a question of whether or not they are winning the division or in the wild card.

Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins are threatening the Bills but have some concerning storylines of their own. Tua Tagovailoa is entering a contract year in Miami that could distract from the quality of play on the field. If so, Miami may cement itself as a team the Chargers have to compete with for a wild card spot.

New York Jets

It is less likely the Jets will win the AFC East as there are so many question marks around Aaron Rodgers' health and the overall talent of the roster around him. If Rodgers and the offense can find its footing, though, then the Jets will undoubtedly be a team Chargers fans have to watch closely.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals did not realize their potential last season thanks to an injury to Joe Burrow. Cincinnati still had a better season than the Chargers, though, and will be fighting for the AFC North crown. It is more likely that they will be in the wild-card picture.

Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns made the playoffs last season off the legs of an elite defense and a miracle run from Joe Flacco. Cleveland should once again be in the hunt in 2024 and will be a team the Chargers need to go through to earn a wild-card spot.

Jackonsville Jaguars

Trevor Lawrence signed a massive contract extension this offseason and needs to put it to good use for the Jaguars in 2024. The 2023 season was incredibly disappointing for the Jaguars, who are projected to be in the wild-card picture behind the Houston Texans.

Will the Chargers make the playoffs?

If it was not for an easy schedule the answer to this question would seem easy. As great as Harbaugh is, this is a multi-year process and expecting the Chargers to win an extra 6+ games in 2024 is a bit extreme. It is not impossible but it is unlikely.

This is an 8-9 win team that needs at least 10 games to make the playoffs in a loaded AFC. All it takes is one or two good breaks for that to happen but it is far from being a guarantee.

As it stands right now, the unbiased answer to this question appears to be no. However, the NFL is the most unpredictable league in American sports and the Chargers making the playoffs would be far from the most surprising thing to happen in 2024.