By Dave Thomas
While the San Diego Chargers are certainly not out of the AFC Wild Card race by any means, they’re getting a little closer each week to the point of no return.
This past Sunday’s 28-20 home loss to the rival Denver Broncos moved the Chargers to 4-5 on the season, a mark that certainly isn’t becoming of a team trying to break a three-year playoff drought. Worse set, the Chargers still must play three teams that have a very solid chance of making the playoffs.
Next up for the Bolts is this Sunday’s trip to South Florida and a meeting with the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins, sporting a record of 4-5 after losing Monday night to the only undefeated team in the NFL, Tampa Bay, are one of the teams the Chargers must beat if they are to get into the AFC playoffs a month and a half from now. They have much harder contests ahead including the Chiefs, the Bengals and a rematch with Peyton Manning in Denver, and this game in Miami must result in victory.
What Does Miami Have to Offer?
As anyone that follows the NFL knows, the Dolphins have been mired in an off-field drama involving a pair of their players in recent weeks. For the rest of the team, keeping their focus on the field and not the television and social media is more important than ever.
On the field, the Dolphins went into Monday’s game led by second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Texas A&M product has thrown for 1,977 yards and 11 touchdowns to date. When it comes to the ground game, the Fins have turned to Lamar Miller (448 yards, two TD’s), while former Pittsburgh Steeler wide receiver Mike Wallace has been Tannehill’s main target, with 480 yards receiving and a touchdown.
Defensively, Miami is led by defensive end Cameron Wake (5.5 sacks) and linebacker Philip Wheeler (58 tackles).
Miami is part of a bunch of teams packed rather tightly in the AFC Wild Card race. No less than six teams (including San Diego and Miami) are all within a game or half game of each other (sitting between 5-4, 4-5 and 4-4 records). Not far behind, both Oakland and Pittsburgh sit at 3-6.
Where Do the Chargers Go From Here?
To say that every game from here on out is a must-win contest for the Chargers would be pretty accurate.
After visiting Miami, the Chargers then play currently unbeaten Kansas City, before hosting AFC North leading Cincinnati. Throw in another game each against the Chiefs and Broncos, and you could certainly make a case where the Bolts could be in a ton of trouble before long.
On the plus side for San Diego, four of its final five games are at home. Then again, the Chargers are just 2-2 at home so far this season.
When they take the field come Sunday in South Florida, the Chargers will have to play by the old adage that all you can do is take it one game at a time.
For more Chargers news and updates, visit Chargers Central.
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.