When the season began, many thought the AFC West was the best division in football, but the division has disappointed this year. If the playoffs began today, the Kansas City Chiefs (10-3) would be the only representative from the AFC West.
The Denver Broncos (3-10) have been mathematically eliminated, and the Las Vegas Raiders (5-8) are on the verge of missing the playoffs. The Chargers (7-6) are in eighth place. The AFC’s three wild-card spots are currently held by the Cincinnati Bengals (9-4), Miami Dolphins (8-5) and New England Patriots (7-6).
However, following their Week 14 victory over the Dolphins, the Chargers are poised to make their first playoff appearance since 2018.
“We must persevere.
“It starts (Monday) if we want to get where we want to go,” Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert said after the Chargers’ win over the Dolphins on Sunday. “I believe there is still a lot of football to be played.”
Herbert is setting records in his third season. He broke Andrew Luck’s record for most passing yards accumulated in a player’s first three seasons (13,056). However, if Herbert is to make the playoffs for the first time in his career, the Chargers must become less reliant on him. The victory in Week 14 demonstrated that Los Angeles should be considered a favourite for a wild-card spot. This is why:
Williams, Allen, and Herbert had played together for fewer than 50 snaps all season prior to Week 14 due to injuries. When Herbert has Williams and Allen on the field together, the Chargers have one of the league’s best receiving tandems.
“They are two of the best ever. “Having guys like that on our team gives us a different energy, a different vibe,” Herbert said of Allen and Williams. “We are extremely grateful to have those guys on our team.”
Williams and Allen combined for 18 receptions, 208 yards, and a touchdown against Miami.
“Having us out there for the entire game shows everyone what kind of plays we can make,” Williams told USA TODAY Sports.
On the field together, Williams and Allen help draw attention away from other pass catchers, such as Austin Ekeler, who leads all NFL running backs with 93 catches and leads the AFC with 13 touchdowns from scrimmage.
This season, the Chargers have an NFL-high six players with at least 400 receiving yards. Williams has 626 yards in nine games, Allen has 400 yards in six games, and Ekeler has 623 yards (and 634 yards rushing) in 13 games.
San Diego’s offence ranks 14th in terms of points (22.7) and 12th in terms of yards (357.4).
Defense is showing signs. Can it go on?
This season, the Chargers have struggled defensively. Los Angeles ranks 24th in the NFL in third-down defence, 28th in run defence (147 rushing yards allowed per game), and 28th in points allowed per game (25).
Despite missing Derwin James, Joey Bosa, Sebastian Joseph-Day, and other defensive starters, the Chargers forced Miami to go 3 for 11 on third downs and limited the Dolphins to 92 yards rushing and 17 points.
In Week 14, the Dolphins offence averaged 380 yards per game. The Chargers defence held Miami to 219 yards in their most impressive defensive performance of the season.
“We’re in December right now, so every game is a must-win game,” Chargers linebacker Kenneth Murray said. “We try to take it one week at a time and win every week, hoping to get on a roll and make the playoffs.”
The Chargers’ ability to stop Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, the NFL’s second-leading rusher entering Week 15, will be critical if they are to win their second game in a row.
Getting healthy in the final stretch
The Chargers have been decimated by injuries, but reinforcements on both sides could return. Joey Bosa (groyne) and Rashawn Slater (biceps) could both return from injured reserve this season.
The Chargers have one of the easiest remaining regular-season schedules. The Chargers have the second-easiest schedule remaining, according to Tankathon, with four games remaining against the Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Rams, and Broncos. Tennessee is the only team that still has a winning record.
“We just have to keep our heads down, grind, and work,” Murray said. “We have to take things one week at a time.”
The AFC West has been a disappointment this season, but once the dust settles, the division could have two teams in the postseason.