By Dave Thomas
With the AFC West Division race all but over, the Los Angeles Chargers are in survival mode at this point and time. Following their disheartening 30-13 loss in Kansas City this past Saturday evening, the Chargers take their act to New Jersey this Christmas Eve for a Sunday afternoon meeting with the New York Jets. While not mathematically eliminated from the division crown chase, Los Angeles would pretty much need a miracle now to catch the front-running Chiefs.
Sitting at 8-6, Kansas City essentially holds a two-game lead over Los Angeles (7-7). In sweeping the season series from the Bolts, the Chiefs are in command of their own destiny. All Kansas City needs to clinch its second straight AFC West crown is a win this Sunday at home versus Miami or a win the following Sunday in Denver. The Chiefs can also secure the title with a Chargers’ loss either this weekend at the Jets or home to Oakland the following weekend.
So, what lies ahead for Los Angeles these final two weekends?
Chargers Must Rebound From Bad Second Half
As has been the case several times this season, Los Angeles shot itself in the foot in the loss to Kansas City with turnovers, notably in the second half. While quarterback Philip Rivers has put up some solid numbers through 14 games (3,838 yards passing, 24 TD’s), the veteran did not have his best game of the season last weekend at Arrowhead Stadium. Three interceptions (two of which were picked off by Marcus Peters) helped seal the team’s fate. Even without those turnovers, the Chargers struggled to move the ball on a consistent basis.
Meanwhile, Kansas City was able to penetrate what had been a very stout Los Angels defense through the last four games heading into the showdown with the Chiefs. Running back Kareem Hunt was nearly a one-man wrecking crew on the evening. Hunt finished with 155 yards rushing on 24 carries and a touchdown. He also chipped in with seven catches for 51 yards and a score through the air.
Jets Can’t Be Taken Lightly
Although the Chargers are still alive in the playoff hunt, the same can’t be said for this weekend’s opponent. Officially eliminated with a record of 5-9, New York is a modest 4-3 when playing at home in the Meadowlands. As such, the Chargers can’t afford to take the Jets lightly come Sunday.
In a season that has actually gone a little better than most prognosticators had expected, the Jets have shown at times that they can play with some of the better teams in the league. To date, New York has defeated AFC South leader Jacksonville (23-20 in overtime), lost to AFC East leader New England (24-17) in their first of two meetings, fallen to NFC Wild Card contender Atlanta (25-20), and beaten AFC West leader Kansas City (38-31).
The bottom line come Sunday is that the Chargers can’t go into this contest and expect the Jets to lay down for them. While not vying for a playoff spot, the Jets will come out and compete these last two weekends of the season (at New England Dec. 31). In doing so, they want to show the world that they are not the team many figured would battle winless Cleveland (0-14) for the top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
After Sunday’s game, the Chargers still hope to have something to play for the following weekend when they host the Oakland Raiders (6-8).