The San Diego Chargers are a fringe playoff team. They’re likely going to end the year a win or two on either side of the “made the playoffs” line. It’s just as easy to see them sitting at 9-7 yet again and missing the playoffs as it is to see them climbing to 10-6 or even 11-5 and getting in. Neither record will likely win the division, as Denver has never won fewer than 12 games with Peyton Manning. However, they’re going to straddle that line to see if they game make it in as a Wild Card. That said, the following games will likely define the season.
Week 1: The Detroit Lions
The Lions had a surprisingly good defense last year that actually led the league for much of the season. Granted, they are now without star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but they did add Haloti Ngata in his place. The Lions are similar to the Chargers in that they’ll likely lose their division but remain very alive in the Wild Card hunt, and Detroit’s defense will be a great test for new running back Melvin Gordon. It’s always nice to get a win in the first week, and it could really help set the Chargers off on the right foot.
Week 8: The Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore is likely going to be right in the fight for the Wild Card spot with the Chargers. Last season, three teams from the AFC North made the playoffs: The Bengals, Ravens and Steelers. That left no room for any Wild Card teams from other divisions. Not only are the Ravens a good test for San Diego and a proven playoff team, but getting a win could definitely come into play at the end of the year, when looking at the playoff picture.
Week 14: The Kansas City Chiefs
All due respect to the Raiders, but the Chargers may not have to worry about them making the playoffs—not yet, anyway. The Chiefs, however, are a serious threat from right inside their own division. This far into the year, the playoff picture is going to be forming quickly. If the Chiefs and Chargers are running neck-and-neck to the end, a win at Arrowhead would be absolutely huge. It’s basically a two-game swing, giving the Chargers a win and the Chiefs a loss in one fell swoop. It’s the type of win that could deflate and derail the Chiefs, while simultaneously giving the Chargers the motivation and fire they need to make a run.
Week 17: The Denver Broncos
The Chargers get to travel to the Broncos for the last game of the season. It’s a classic setup and one the NFL probably hopes they can flex up to a primetime game if needed—if the Chargers and Broncos were both siting at 10-5, for example, battling it out to take the division in one game. Depending how the rest of the league falls into place, this could even be a playoff type game, with the winner going to the postseason and the loser going home. It’d be the ultimate end to the season.
Even if one team is far enough ahead not to get caught, though, it’s a terrific last game of the year, one that the Chargers are always fired up for. It could be their last chance to prove themselves or a chance to at least ruin Denver’s year. After all, even if the Chargers are out of the playoff race, they could still come out firing on all cylinders if beating the Broncos means that the Chiefs win the division. It could also be the Chargers’ last game as a team from San Diego. There are a ton of great scenarios and storylines, and fans should already be looking forward to this game.