The Chargers passed their first of many tests in December with a last-second road win Sunday against the Steelers that put them a step closer to clinching their first postseason berth in five years.
In that 2013 playoff run, the Chargers defeated the Bengals in a wild-card matchup and fell to the Broncos in the divisional round. Those two teams, along with the Chiefs and Ravens, stand in the way of the Chargers making it back to the postseason.
It’s a grueling four-game stretch to close out the regular season. But with a 9-3 record, the Chargers’ odds of playing in January, at least as a wild-card team, are high.
The Chargers, however, don’t want a repeat of 2013. They want to accomplish what the 2009 squad did – capture the AFC West crown – and more than that.
The Chargers are in position to become division champs for the first time in nine years, sitting only one game behind the Chiefs, who are currently the No. 1 seed in the conference.
It’s been a long time since the Chargers have had this type of success, but with their win against the Steelers, they proved they’re not settling for just a playoff appearance.
Here’s a look at the Chargers’ final four games, and their prospects of victory in each:
Game 13: Chargers vs. Cincinnati Bengals (5-7), Sunday, 1:05 p.m. at StubHub Center
This is a game the Chargers need to win before a brutal three-game stretch against playoff contenders to close out the regular season. The Bengals are 14-point underdogs, according to the betting experts, and it probably should be more with starting quarterback Andy Dalton and star wide receiver A.J. Green sidelined because of injuries. With a banged-up offense, it’s tough to see the Bengals keeping up with the Chargers’ explosive offense that is averaging 28.3 points per game.
There’s always the “trap game” concern, but don’t expect this one to play out like the Chargers’ upset loss at home to the Broncos in Week 11. The final score should be similar to what the Chargers did against the Cardinals in Week 12 when they scored 45 unanswered points. The Bengals have one of the worst defenses in the league. Cincinnati is allowing a league-worst 30.9 points and 433.1 yards per game.
Chargers’ chances of victory: 85 percent
Game 14: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs (10-2), Dec. 13, 5:20 p.m.
The Chargers might be playing the Chiefs at the right time. The AFC-West leading Chiefs survived a scare against the lowly Raiders last week, winning only by seven points. Kansas City struggled in its first game without star running back Kareem Hunt, who was released last week after a video emerged of him shoving and kicking a woman. The Chiefs combined for 174 rushing yards versus the Raiders, but quarterback Patrick Mahomes was the leading rusher with 52 yards.
With a poor defense and an offense not at full strength, the Chiefs could be vulnerable versus a balanced Chargers squad. But the Chiefs have dominated the rivalry against the Chargers in recent years. The Chargers haven’t won at Arrowhead Stadium since 2013 and they’ve lost nine consecutive games to the Chiefs. If the Chiefs beat the Chargers for a second time this season, they might be celebrating another division title after the “Thursday Night Football” affair.
Chargers’ chances of victory: 45 percent
Game 15: Chargers vs. Baltimore Ravens (7-5), Dec. 22, 5:20 p.m. at StubHub Center
Depending on what happens in the next two weeks, this game could determine which team gets the higher wild-card spot in the AFC. The Ravens are currently the sixth seed and two games behind the Chargers. Baltimore has won three in a row with rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, but Joe Flacco is healthy again and the team hasn’t decided which quarterback will start the rest of the season.
If Jackson is under center when the Ravens arrive in Carson, the Chargers will have to worry about a dynamic rushing attack. Jackson is averaging 88.3 rushing yards and 18 carries per game in his three starts. Another surprise for the Ravens during their winning streak is the emergence of undrafted rookie running back Gus Edwards. The grind-it-out approach on offense has allowed the Ravens’ stout defense to stay fresh in games. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is well aware of what Baltimore brings on defense. Rivers said he watched the Ravens’ dominant win over the Falcons last week and was impressed with the defense.
Chargers’ chances of victory: 60 percent
Game 16: Chargers at Denver Broncos (6-6), Dec. 30, 1:25 p.m.
The Broncos’ out-of-nowhere playoff push started with a 23-22 victory against the Chargers at the Stubhub Center on Nov. 18. They extended their winning streak to three after defeating the Steelers and Bengals, and now sit one game behind the Ravens for the final wild-card slot. So what changed after the 3-6 start? The Broncos are back to playing dominant defense behind Von Miller and rookie Bradley Chubb. Also, the running game has taken off with Phillip Lindsay, another rookie, in the past three games.
But the Broncos could have trouble with the injury to top cornerback Chris Harris. There’s a chance Harris could return in the next few weeks, especially if Denver is still in playoff contention. Like in Kansas City, the Chargers have had trouble playing in Denver, where they haven’t won since 2013.
Chargers’ chances of victory: 55 percent
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