Who Has The Fast Track To AFC Playoffs?
By Dave Thomas
Although not eliminated from contention, the San Diego Chargers need a late-season win streak and some help to make their first playoff visit in four seasons.
Does it seem like ages ago that the Chargers were sporting a 4-3 record? If you said yes, you are certainly correct. Since getting to 4-3 in late October, the Bolts have proceeded to drop four of five games, leaving them two games under .500 at 5-7. As a result, they stand today on the outside looking in at the playoffs again this season.
If the AFC playoffs were to kick off today, Denver (10-2) and New England (9-3) would hold the top two seeds, respectively. Cincinnati and Indianapolis (both 8-4) would be the respective champions of the AFC North and South, while Kansas City (9-3) and defending champ Baltimore (6-6) would be the other playoff participants.
Currently joining the Bolts on the outside looking in would be Miami (6-6), the Jets (5-7), Pittsburgh (5-7) and Tennessee (5-7). Lastly, Buffalo, Cleveland and Oakland are all but looking towards next season in sitting at 4-8.
Chargers Face No Easy Games
Starting with a visit from Eli Manning and the New York Giants this Sunday, the Chargers have four tough tests over the remainder of December.
After getting one Manning this Sunday, San Diego must then go on a shortened week to the Mile High City on Dec. 12 to meet the other Manning.
Yes, playing at Denver in December, along with facing arguably the NFL’s MVP for 2013, will certainly be no easy task. On the bright side, Denver also has a shortened week (hosts Tennessee this Sunday), so anything is possible. Keep in mind that few gave the Chargers a chance a week ago this past Sunday when they limped into Kansas City and hung the second loss of the season on the Chiefs (41-38).
The Chargers then return home for the last two Sundays of the season, meeting AFC West rivals Oakland (Dec. 22) and Kansas City (Dec. 29).
While one might think Oakland will be a pushover, keep in mind that they defeated San Diego early in the season up in the Bay Area. Although the Chiefs have now dropped three in a row after a 9-0 start, keep in mind that they are fighting for playoff seeding at this point and time, so they will likely have much riding on that season-ending game.
With those details in mind, here is a look at some of the other AFC hopefuls….
Baltimore – The defending Super Bowl champs had to replace a number of cogs in their championship team, but don’t discount them from finding their way into the post-season again. The Ravens will not find the trek easy, however, as they have road trips to Detroit and Cincinnati, along with a visit from New England in three of their remaining four games.
Miami – The up and down Fish don’t have an easy finish by any means, going to Pittsburgh and Buffalo (can always be a difficult test in December), along with homes dates to New England and the Jets. On paper, Miami should go 2-2 or 3-1 against that schedule, but they could also find themselves on the outside looking in come month’s end.
Tennessee – The Titans, who beat the Chargers (20-17) with less than a minute remaining back in September, have road dates at Denver and an improving Jacksonville, along with home dates against a formidable Arizona squad and the horrific Houston Texans. If the Titans can surprise the Broncos in the Mile High City this coming Sunday, keep an eye on them the remainder of the way. Otherwise, they will pretty much have to beat the Jags, Cards and Texans to have any hope at all.
Pittsburgh – The Steelers had gained some momentum over the last month in winning three straight, but that was before falling 22-20 at Baltimore on Thanksgiving night. Although some may want to count out Big Ben and Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh gets three of its last four games at Heinz Field (Miami, Cincinnati, Cleveland), with the one road date against floundering Green Bay.
N.Y. Jets – Last but not least, the falling Jets are literally in a tailspin. Three straight losses have left their once hopeful playoff hopes on life support like the Chargers. New York, which has managed a total of 20 points in its final three games, finishes its season with home dates versus Oakland and Cleveland, along with trips to Carolina and Miami. Yes, the Jets could surprise and go 4-0 in those last four, though seeing them lose two, three or maybe even all four games is not out of the question. Team officials say rookie QB Geno Smith still gets the starting nod this Sunday at home versus the Raiders, but his confidence level has to be next to nothing right now.
In the event you were a betting man or woman, who do you think emerges from this bunch as the final AFC seed (assuming the five front runners as of now all make it)?
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.