By Dave Thomas
If you had asked most NFL prognosticators nearly two months ago if the Los Angeles Chargers had a chance of picking off the first-place Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West, they would have you thought you were crazy.
Flash-forward some two months later and the Chargers are in a prime spot to shock a lot of “experts” when all is said and done.
After a terrible 0-4 start to the season, Los Angeles righted the ship, arriving at its now 5-6 record heading into Sunday’s home contest with the winless Cleveland Browns (0-11).
So, what has led to a change in fortunes for a team many in San Diego were hoping would fall on its face once it started calling the greater Los Angeles area home?
Chargers Have Some Swagger
Part of the change with the Chargers over the last two months has been the ability to win games they should be winning.
Facing teams with records only slightly better than them, the Chargers have picked off a number of teams on the field that they should also have beaten on paper.
Ever since the close 26-24 loss on Oct. 1 to what is now a 10-1 Philadelphia squad, Los Angeles has won five-of-seven games. If you throw in a very close loss at Jacksonville and a loss in New England where the Chargers certainly had chances to win, this could be a 7-4 team heading into game number 12.
As it stands, Los Angeles is in a good spot to not only get an AFC Wild Card berth, but also possibly capture its first AFC West crown (see more below) since the 2009 season. For those not up on their history, the Chargers (while in San Diego) won four straight division titles from 2006-09.
In being more competitive these last two months, the Chargers have a swagger about them. It all starts with their veteran signal caller Philip Rivers. Never one to be shy about showing his feelings on the field, Rivers looks as good as ever over these last couple of months. Sure, the guy can barely scramble to save his life. Sure, he has thrown some interceptions that were not pretty. That said, this team is clicking on both sides of the ball, especially in putting up points the last few games.
In wins over Buffalo and Dallas, the Chargers amassed 82 points. Remember, the Bills and Cowboys are not exactly the Browns or 49ers.
Meantime, the Chargers defense has also been firing on all cylinders. In holding Buffalo and Dallas to a combined 30 points, Los Angeles has shown that scoring is going to be a chore against this unit.
Although there will be a few stiff tests in December, there is nothing now to indicate that this defensive unit is going to falter anytime soon.
Schedule Is In Chargers’ Favor
When you take a look at the remaining schedule for Los Angeles, Chargers fans can’t help but get more than a little excited.
After the only winless team remaining in the NFL (Cleveland) visits this Sunday, the Chargers get a mediocre Washington team at home the following Sunday.
From there, what is now looking like a big game in Kansas City arrives on Saturday, Dec. 16 against the Chiefs. If the Chargers can get a season series split with the Chiefs (KC won earlier this year in Los Angeles), that could be the ticket to an AFC West crown.
Following the date with the Chiefs, Los Angeles can’t overlook a road date with the New York Jets on Christmas Eve. Although New York is struggling as of late, a game the day before Christmas in what should be a cold environment could prove to be a trap.
Last, the Chargers’ season may all hinge on their New Year’s Eve home date with the rival Oakland Raiders. As of now, the Raiders also sit at 5-6 in the AFC West. Could it all come down to the final regular season game?
For now, the Chargers must focus on beating a Cleveland team that got its only win against the then San Diego Chargers last season. A loss to the lowly Browns this weekend would make much of that good feeling the Chargers and their fans have had in recent weeks melt away.