The Chargers (9-7) are on the brink of returning to the AFC playoffs for the first time since the 2018 season. Los Angeles has already improved its 7-9 record from 2020 to 9-7 with one game left in the expanded 2021 NFL schedule.
But rookie coach Brandon Staley’s first year will feel like a disappointment without a wild-card berth behind the AFC West-winning Chiefs, given the Chargers have an elite young QB in Justin Herbert.
Here’s what the Chargers need to do to make sure both Los Angeles teams make the playoffs ahead of Super Bowl 56 being played there:
NFL playoff picture: Chargers’ playoff chances
The Chargers, the current No. 7 and final seed, have only one way to get into the AFC playoffs: Not lose in Week 18. They must either beat or tie the Raiders on the road as field-goal favorites on Sunday night (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC).
Los Angeles beat Las Vegas handily at home in Week 4, 28-14. The Raiders are the current No. 8 team in the AFC after beating the No. 6 Colts, also 9-7, in Week 17.
The Chargers will be in the playoffs at 10-7 or 9-7-1 because either way, they will win the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Raiders.
The Chargers cannot make the playoffs, however, at 9-8. That also would make the Raiders 10-7 and put them ahead of the Chargers.
At one game above .500, the Chargers could finish in a tie with either one or all of the following three teams: the Colts (ff they lose to the Jaguars), the Dolphins (if they beat the Patriots) and/or the Ravens (if they beat the Steelers).
The Chargers lost to the Ravens in Week 6, so they lose the tiebreaker head-to-head there. As the Chargers also would fall to 6-6 in AFC play, they would lose the conference-record tiebreaker to the Colts, whom they didn’t play. The Chargers also would lose the common-games tiebreaker to the Dolphins, whom they also didn’t play.
It set all sets up a playoff game before the playoffs for the Chargers, all because they couldn’t beat the Texans in Week 16.