Chargers Catch Breaks from AFC Playoff Contenders in Week 10
The Los Angeles Chargers did not help themselves by losing a 26-24 Thursday night thriller with the Oakland Raiders on Thursday. However, the Chargers did catch some breaks courtesy of the AFC's playoff contenders later in the week.
Even at 4-6, the Chargers have plausible (albeit difficult) paths to either a division crown or a wild-card berth. With four out of their final seven games taking place within the AFC West, they entered Sunday with the ability to run the table and finish atop the division with little outside help. Alternatively, Los Angeles could still mathematically sneak into one of the conference's final playoff slots with enough fortuitous breaks. As such, the team needs its competition within the AFC West and those elsewhere in the conference to falter in roughly equal measure.
The first of those twists came in the form of the Kansas City Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who returned to play his first game since severely dislocating his kneecap, dropping a matchup to the Tennessee Titans. Mahomes played like an MVP for much of Sunday's game, but the defense ultimately let the team down, allowing 35 points and giving up the go-ahead score in the final minute of regulation.
The Chiefs have now lost four of their last six games and sit just two games ahead of the Chargers, with whom they play two games over the next month and a half. If Los Angeles wins out, it would leap ahead of Kansas City via the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Outside the AFC West, the Buffalo Bills fell to the Cleveland Browns 19-16 in a back and forth affair. The Chargers trail the Bills by two games in the standings, a sizable gap at this point in the season. However, four of Buffalo's final five games pit the team against the Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, and New England Patriots. As currently constituted, the Bills would enter at least three of those games as underdogs.
Elsewhere, the supposedly tanking Miami Dolphins stunned the Indianapolis Colts 16-12 at Lucas Oil Stadium. Playing without starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett, Indy could get little to work offensively, with backup signal-caller Brian Hoyer tossing three interceptions and nearly fumbling away another possession. The Chargers, who defeated the Colts in the season opener, only need to make up one game to catch them in the standings.
Not everything went the Chargers' way Sunday. The Pittsburgh Steelers held on to beat the Los Angeles Rams and move further ahead in the standings, and the idle Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars didn't lose ground. Los Angeles will probably need to jump both in order to secure a wild-card berth.
Still, the Chargers still have multiple paths to a postseason return despite losing this week, which is all they can ask for at this point in the year.
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH