Day’s Den: Chargers face final push for postseason

Duncan Day | Daily Trojan

Let’s face it. The Los Angeles Chargers are in a pretty deep hole when it comes to their playoff chances. Once assumed to have greater odds than the Los Angeles Rams to win this year’s Super Bowl, head coach Anthony Lynn’s crew sits in a concerning position, boasting a measly 3-6 record, following an overtime loss, 20-17, to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The question is, how well does L.A. have to perform for Lynn to keep his job? In order to have a better idea of the answer, understanding the AFC West’s current outlook is necessary.

Right now, the Chargers are battling the Denver Broncos for the AFC West’s third-place spot behind the Raiders and Chiefs. The Raiders are in danger of slipping with a 4-5 record, as they face the New England Patriots this week in one of their toughest games of the season.  And the Broncos continued their downward spiral, falling hard to the Patriots, 41-16, on Sunday night.

The AFC West, no doubt, isn’t living up to the hype it captured in 2016, but for the Bolts, and specifically Lynn, that’s actually a good thing, since the division’s second-place team may not end up with a flashy record.

At this point, it’s clear an 8-8 record would probably be the best-case scenario for the Chargers. Therefore, Lynn finishing the season very strong means losing two games or less. The remainder of the Bolts’ schedule starts with a home game against the Buffalo Bills this coming week, and they will then hit the road to play the Dallas Cowboys.

The good news for the Chargers is that they can bolster their plan of attack against the Bills by borrowing from the game plan of the New Orleans Saints, who crushed Buffalo on Sunday, 47-10. The Chargers will have the luxury of encountering the Cowboys without their star running back, the suspended Ezekiel Elliott.

The Bolts would really set themselves up to succeed by defeating both Buffalo and Dallas. Because then, they have a extremely winnable contest against the winless Cleveland Browns. In a tougher stretch of competition, the Chargers take on the Washington Redskins at the StubHub Center and then have to deal with Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs.

If Lynn can notch a three-game winning streak up to this juncture, and that’s obviously up for debate, I would see an end to his run coming versus either Washington or Kansas City.

My line of thinking is particularly important for Lynn because a three-game victorious streak makes that 8-8 record much more plausible. 

The main goal becomes simple after three victories in a row: win two of the last four games. And the last two regular season meetings, post-Washington and Kansas City, are against the New York Jets and the Raiders. The Chargers have proven they can defeat Oakland, while the Jets are certainly beatable.

The main issue for someone predicting this 8-8 record for the Chargers is their unpredictability over the course of the season. Quarterback Philip Rivers’ possible absence for this week’s contest, due to a concussion he reported on Monday, fortifies this uncertainty. Rivers has started 185 consecutive games and tried to win the 2007 AFC Championship against the Patriots. His competitiveness and sheer amount of experience on the field are vital keys to the game that the Chargers are going to be hard-pressed to replace. And with the nature of concussion injuries, it’s completley uncertain at this time how long the quarterback will be unavailable to play.

“To be honest with you, I don’t even really have an experience with him not being out there,” longtime Chargers’ tight end Antonio Gates said of Rivers.

From the optimist viewpoint, even if Rivers’ on-field leadership and talent heavily contribute to the heart and soul of his side, backup Kellen Clemens is a veteran that knows the Chargers’ offense well.

And as long as defensive stars Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa are healthy, Lynn should be in position to keep these games close. Every time I watch Bosa and Ingram push the limits of opposing offensive lineman, I realize just how lucky the Chargers are. With an average pass rush, Los Angeles’ defense would not be the ninth-best NFL unit in points allowed.

The bad news for Lynn is that a few injuries could derail the hopes of an even record. There becomes such a fine line between an 8-8 team and a 5-11 team. It’s usually a pretty consistent lack of execution from September to December that causes 10 or more defeats in an NFL regular season.

On the grounds that the Chargers trend in the wrong direction and are looking at a very favorable first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, a couple looming thoughts will exist. Lynn will be on the hot seat for sure, but he could survive for another season. His draft pick may be used to take a quarterback, considering the 2018 class is deep and a 34-year-old Clemens isn’t a franchise QB.

Rivers’ exit is almost certain by the end of 2019, ending an era for the Chargers. The excursion to being a playoff team before the North Carolina State product is gone starts now.

Duncan Day is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. His column, “Day’s Den,” runs Wednesdays.