At 4-7, Chargers' Playoff Hopes Effectively Extinguished
In the aftermath of Week 10's 26-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn expressed how his team had squandered what little margin for error it had left in the playoff race. "I don't know if we can lose another game," Lynn said at his postgame press conference, a reflection of both Los Angeles' record (4-6 at the time) and a remaining schedule that included four games within the division. Though another defeat wouldn't mathematically eliminate the Chargers from postseason contention, it would strip them of control over the process.
Two weeks later, the Chargers have dug themselves deeper into the hole, dropping a pivotal AFC West matchup to the Kansas City Chiefs 24-17 in Mexico City. The defeat effectively rings the death knell for Los Angeles' season. From 1990 to 2018, 131 teams opened a season with a 4-7 record. Of those, just three eventually qualified for the postseason, a scant 2.3% of the total group. While two of those playoff berths belong to the Chargers (1995 and 2008), the numbers paint a grim outlook for them over the next six weeks.
For the Chargers to beat the odds and claim a seat in the tournament, they now need extensive help from their AFC competition. Almost every playoff scenario involves the rest of their division dropping every game outside of the AFC West as well as the Raiders upsetting the Chiefs in Week 13. Los Angeles would also benefit greatly by the Indianapolis Colts, Buffalo Bills, and Pittsburgh Steelers dropping every contest over the next three weeks.
Even then, the Chargers would have just an 11% chance of reaching the playoffs and a 6% chance of winning their division, according to Five Thirty Eight. However, those figures beat the less than 1% chance they have now.
Return of Derwin James and Adrian Phillips
With Los Angeles effectively out of the playoff race, the front office and coaching staff will have to decide whether to protect their top assets by removing them from soon-to-be meaningless games or put their best players on the field regardless and risk injury. With a laundry list of Chargers on the injury report and several more stranded on IR, it makes sense to at least consider shielding those players from more wear and tear.
Though the Chargers might make those determinations on a case-by-case basis, they appear to have already committed to bringing back safeties Derwin James (foot) and Adrian Phillips (arm).
"No, no, not at all. No. Why would we do that?" Lynn responded when asked about shutting down James on Tuesday. "If we have healthy players as good as DJ — if he can play, he's going to play.
"We're not tanking, guys."
Lynn confirmed that the same approach would apply to Phillips, whom the team designated to return last week. Barring a setback, both will play during the final stretch of the season. The Chargers' next game — a Dec. 1 tilt with the Denver Broncos — could realistically see both make their returns.
No QB change imminent, but not off the table either
After tossing seven interceptions over the Chargers' last two games, Philip Rivers' future has become the topic du jour around the team. His expiring contract, declining performance, and other factors could push Los Angeles to move on from the veteran quarterback as soon as this offseason.
Yet, with five games remaining in 2019, team brass has sidestepped the questions about Rivers' long-term outlook.
"I'm not going to entertain that right now," Lynn said. "I'm thinking about everything. Right now, Philip Rivers is our starting quarterback. I'm not going to single one position out. I'm looking at everybody. We're sitting here at 4-7, everybody could be doing something better."
Still, Lynn's unwillingness to consider a quarterback change during the Chargers' bye week doesn't preclude him from doing so before the end of the season. Lynn revealed that the Chargers had planned to use Tyrod Taylor for a few select plays in last week's matchup with the Chiefs but the game flow didn't allow for offensive coordinator Shane Steichen to call them. Taylor has made his way onto the field at various points over the course of the season and has ties with Lynn dating back to their shared time in Buffalo. Taylor's mobility also better fits the type of offense Lynn ran prior to working with Rivers.
If Rivers continues to struggle and Lynn wants to see whether Taylor can run his vision for the offense better, the Chargers could make the switch late 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