The Chargers have flashed at times as electric AFC wild-card contenders with second-year QB Justin Herbert and rookie coach Brandon Staley. But they are making it hard on themselves to make the playoffs in 2021 behind the Chiefs in the AFC West.
Los Angeles (8-7) suffered a big upset loss at Houston in Week 16. Despite the Texans being depleted offensively and defensively with a COVID-19 outbreak, they blew past the somewhat shorthanded Chargers, 41-29.
Here’s how that shocking result affects the Chargers’ attempt to make the AFC tournament as at least the No. 7 and final seed:
NFL playoff picture: Chargers’ AFC wild-card chances
The Chargers had a chance to take first place from the Chiefs in the AFC West in Week 15. With two consecutive losses, the Chargers now need to sweat out surviving to advance beyond Week 18.
In two weeks, they have gone from near-lock for the playoffs to opening the door for one of multiple teams to pass them. Los Angeles (8-7) has the same record as Baltimore (8-7). Pittsburgh jumped briefly into the No. 7 spot during Week 16, before it lost at Kansas City big to fall to 7-7-1. The AFC West rival Raiders (8-7) beat the Broncos (7-8) to match the Ravens’ and Chargers’ records.
In that three-way tie between the Ravens, Chargers and Raiders, the tiebreaker comes down to the common-games tiebreaker. The Ravens, who went 3-1 against the AFC West, including beating the Chiefs, would get the No. 7 seed over both teams.
There’s one more wrinkle before Week 16 is finished. The Dolphins (7-7) will jump the Ravens in the case of a four-way tie. Either way, the Chargers have lost their No. 7 standing.
The Chargers close the season with the Broncos at home and the Raiders on the road, so they can control some of the close competition behind them in their own division. But they also are a game and a head-to-head tiebreaker down to the Patriots (9-6), who hold the No. 6 seed. The red-hot No. 5 seed Colts (9-6) are headed to win out. Both the Patriots and Colts are boosted by strong 7-3 conference records, while the Chargers are only 5-5 in AFC play.
Los Angeles is losing its grip on a potential playoff-bound season. It will need some help from the other Los Angeles team — the NFC’s Rams, who play at the Ravens in Week 17. If the Ravens win out, they would be at least the No. 7. But if the Ravens finish 1-1, then the power shifts from them to the Chargers, because they likely would be in by taking down the Broncos and Raiders back-to-back. The Chargers also have a key head-to-head win over the Browns (7-8).
The Dolphins also would be a big factor if they get to 8-7, but they have a tough remaining schedule, at the Titans in Week 17 before closing at home vs. the Patriots in Week 18. As for the Raiders, before facing the Chargers at home in Week 18, they also have a tough Week 17 road game again an AFC South power, the Colts.
By flopping against the Texans, the Chargers badly singed their playoff probability. Fortunately, there’s still a little time to flip it.