Chargers' Playoff Hopes Rest on December Dominance Under Anthony Lynn
The Los Angeles Chargers' 2019 season changed the moment they fell 24-17 to the Kansas City Chiefs in Mexico City two weeks ago. That defeat stripped the Chargers of control over their postseason hopes, placing them further behind the AFC playoff race with just five games remaining on their schedule. Now, like so many NFL teams, they need considerable help to survive into January.
Certainly, the Chargers' playoff outlook seems grim entering the month of December. Since 1990, only three of the 131 teams that opened a season 4-7 went on to qualify for the playoffs. Two of those instances transpired before the 2002 division realignment, and none occurred in the past decade. For Los Angeles to reach the postseason, it will have to do something that has rarely happened in recent NFL history.
Interestingly, the Chargers might possess the unique qualities to make such a playoff run. While they remain extreme dark horses to earn a spot in the tournament -- Five Thirty Eight projects their odds at less than 1% entering Week 13 -- their track record under head coach Anthony Lynn provides a beacon of hope.
Since Lynn took over the Chargers in 2017, no team has more thoroughly dominated the month of December. In Lynn's 10 December games as a head coach, Los Angeles has emerged victorious in eight. That 80% win rate comes in a full 5 percentage points higher than the next best mark (the Dallas Cowboys at 75%) and at least 10 higher than any other club over that time span.
And the Chargers haven't faced only hapless opponents in December over the last two seasons. The group includes three division winners and four with winning records. Half finished no worse than a win below the .500 mark. Take out a Dec. 3, 2017 victory over the Cleveland Browns -- one of only two teams to produce an 0-16 record in NFL history -- and Los Angeles' December opponents since 2017 have a winning percentage of 50.8%.
The Chargers will have to replicate that magic over the next month to have any prayer of reaching the postseason, as three of their upcoming opponents have winning records (the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, and Chiefs) and the other two have the home-field advantage (Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars). Other than Denver, each of the five teams has a record as good or better than Los Angeles'.
Still, the Chargers have beaten longer odds before. As with Lloyd Christmas' odds of ending up with Mary Swanson, there's a chance.
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH