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AFC West Heading Toward a Wild Finish

Five weeks left in the NFL regular season. The Chiefs have lost five of their last six games. The Chargers have won five of their last seven games. Things are getting weird in the AFC West.

The only team in NFL history to reach the playoffs after starting 0–4 was the Chargers back in 1992—and since history has a tendency to repeat itself, it’s worth looking back at how they navigated through NFL purgatory.

Former Rams general manager and Chargers pro personnel director Billy Devaney told me back in 2013 that it was possible, in part, because of the passive attitude toward the Chargers. No one was coming to games. The team wasn’t covered aggressively by the media, despite a few calls for head coach Bobby Ross to be fired. They could come to work and regroup without the weight of a spoiled fan base on their backs.

“We start 0–4 and everybody says ‘OK, the Chargers stink. Oh well. They’ve been pretty bad for a few years now,’” Devaney said.

Sound familiar?

On Sunday, the Chiefs dropped to 6–5, losing their fourth game in six weeks. The Raiders beat the punchless Broncos to improve to 5–6 and all of a sudden, there’s potential for a three-team pileup atop a division Andy Reid should have claimed outright a few weeks ago.

The Chargers, who started this season 0–4 without the ability to sell out a 27,000-seat micro-stadium, whipped the Cowboys on Thanksgiving four days after hanging 54 points on a Bills team that beat the Chiefs this Sunday. They’ve now won five of their last seven games in relative anonymity. They face Cleveland and Washington over the next two weeks before a prime time date with the Chiefs at Arrowhead on December 16.

It’s about to get weird out west. The Chargers aren’t sneaking up on anyone anymore.

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Here’s a look at the remaining schedules for each AFC West team still in contention:

KANSAS CITY: At New York Jets, vs. Oakland, vs. Los Angeles Chargers, vs. Miami, vs. Denver

LOS ANGELES: Vs. Cleveland, vs. Washington, at Kansas City, at New York Jets, vs. Oakland

OAKLAND: Vs. New York Giants, at Kansas City, vs. Dallas, at Philadelphia, at Los Angeles Chargers

While the Chiefs still have a two-game edge, the Chargers and Raiders can both take their best shot. The Raiders are currently the only team out of these three to have a non-divisional opponent with a winning record left on their schedule.

According to ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight projections, the Chargers’ chances of reaching the postseason increased dramatically over the past week. There’s now a near-30% chance they can reach the postseason. All but a lock weeks ago, Kansas City is down to 80%, while their chance to win the division has slipped to 75%.

The odds of any team twice in franchise history reaching the playoffs after starting 0–4 are astronomically lower, but if 11 games in the AFC West has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.