A Victory over Chargers this Weekend Could Start a Play-off push...
by WILLIAM T. CLOAKE IV
Believe it or not, in the whacky, frankly lousy, AFC West, a victory over the San Diego Chargers this weekend could actually put the improving Chiefs in position to start a play-off run. Certainly, the Chiefs haven't done anything to put themselves in this situation, but – lucky for the Chiefs – if you have to stink, the AFC West is the division to do it in. How bad is the AFC West? Consider this: the AFC West is the only division in the NFL to not have a team with a winning record leading it. It is the only division, other than the NFC West, to not have at least two teams with a .500 better or record. It is the only division to not have at least one team with a winning record in its last five games and three of its four members (Denver, Oakland and the Chiefs) have lost four of their last five games.
So, given these facts, the Chiefs are actually in a position to make a play-off run. Now, before you call a mental institution to have me committed, consider this: while the Chiefs are 1-7, they are only three games back of division the leading Denver Broncos (4-4). What is more, they still have one game left against the Broncos in Denver. The 2nd place Chargers (3-5) are two games ahead of the Chiefs in the standings, the Chiefs still have two games against them, which give them control over their own destiny in terms of eliminating that lead.
If the Chiefs were to get hot and win 7 of their next 8, they would be 8-8. Given the state of the AFC west this season it isn't a stretch to perceive that a .500 record would be enough to win the division. What is more, the Chiefs are currently 1-1 in the division with 4 of their division games in the last eight. Overall, the Chiefs have the easier part of their schedule in front of them. The Chiefs last 8 opponents have a combined record of 23-33 and only one Buffalo (5-3) has a winning record. Of the Chiefs non-division games, the toughest of these games, New Orleans, Buffalo and Miami are all at home, where the Chiefs generally play much better.
Looking at the first place Broncos, they are not any better than the Chiefs since week three, matching the Chiefs 1-4 record since that time, after starting 3-0. The Broncos, however, play five of their last eight games on the road and have a harder road to hoe than the Chiefs. The Broncos opposition has a 29-27 record (excluding the Chiefs) and four of their final eight opponents have winning records (Atlanta, Carolina, New York Jets and Buffalo). The Broncos also have their toughest games on the road, including Cleveland, Atlanta, New York Jets and Carolina. If the Chiefs were to beat the Broncos in Denver – certainly a tall order – it is not inconceivable that the Broncos would wind up at 8-8 (frankly a 4-3 record in the Broncos other games even seems a stretch). What's more the Chiefs would own the tie-breaker over the Broncos due to having swept them in the regular season.
As to the Chargers, they do have the advantage of having five of their final eight games at home. However, they have the toughest final schedule with an opponents combined record of 27-22 (excluding the Chiefs) and three of their final six opponents have a winning record. However, their three road games include Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and the Chiefs. However, as mentioned previously, given the fact that the Chiefs have two games vs. San Diego, they actually control their own destiny in terms of the Chargers. If the Chiefs were to sweep the Chargers, the Chargers would have to win five of their other six games to make it to 8-8. Frankly this seems pretty unlikely, but even if it played out an 8-8 Chiefs team would win on the tie-breaker of head-to-head competition.
Finally, the Raiders (2-6) have four of their final eight games at home, but they have a tough remaining schedule, with their combined opponents owning a record of 31-25 (excluding the Chiefs). The Raiders – who beat the Chiefs early in the season – play the Chiefs again in Oakland. Otherwise, Oakland's path is very similar to the Chiefs, they have one game against the Chargers and trail the Chargers by one in the standings. However, the Raiders seem to be in complete disarray. Their offense is a distant last in scoring with only 107 points through 8 games, further, this is a team that appears to be playing worse ever week instead of better.
Of course, for a team that has gone 1-7 to turn it around and go 7-1 is quite a tall order. But the Chiefs may not even need to do that. Frankly, if the Chiefs were to get hot and knock off their division foes the rest of the way, it wouldn't be inconceivable to predict a scenario where the division could be won with a 7-9 or even a 6-10 record (wouldn't this be awful?). While 6-10 might sound unfathomable, it isn't. If the Chiefs sweep the Chargers and the Chargers split their other 6 games the Chargers go 6-10. If the Chiefs beat Denver and the Broncos go 2-5 in their other games the Broncos go 6-10. Given the way the Broncos are playing, this hardly seems impossible. Interestingly, under this scenario, the Chiefs win out due to having the best record (5-1) within the division.
Again, I am not saying that it is likely that the Chiefs will contend for the AFC West crown, however, it certainly isn't impossible. Certainly, the top contender for the AFC west crown is actually the 2nd place Chargers, in spite of the 3-5 record, which makes this weekend's game in San Diego virtually a must win, if this crazy scenario is to play out. However, a win over the Chargers this weekend could give Tyler Thigpen and company a swagger that would let them sneak up on some teams and perhaps make the seemingly impossible, well...possible.