COSTA MESA — Can the Chargers clinch the fourth quarter?
After watching his team fall into an 0-4 hole to open the season, Anthony Lynn decided to split the season into four parts. Yes, the Chargers were off to their worst start since 2003, but the first-year head coach wanted to make sure his players zeroed in on the game in front of them — and nothing else.
That tactic has paid off, with quarterback Philip Rivers and his teammates winning six of their last eight games and climbing back into a three-way tie for the AFC West lead. They aren’t above .500 yet, but after Kansas City’s recent collapse, the Chargers (6-6) look like the best team in the division, and arguably one of the four best teams in the conference.
But passing the eye test alone doesn’t guarantee a playoff spot. No team has made the postseason following an 0-4 start since the Chargers did it in 1992. Can they repeat history?
Here’s a look at the rest of the schedule:
Chargers vs. Washington, Sunday at StubHub Center: After taking a 24-point beating in Dallas last Thursday, Washington has spiraled out of playoff contention in the more competitive NFC — and could be limping into an uncertain future this offseason.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins is already playing on his second franchise tag, and a third would cost owner Dan Snyder around $34 million. That’s a lot to pay for a quarterback that doesn’t rank among the top five in the league, and might not even be a lock for the top 10. Cousins is also losing weapons: tight end Jordan Reed has only played six games this season, and hasn’t suited up since Halloween; running back Chris Thompson, who had 515 yards from scrimmage in his first five games, is done for the season.
But despite the shortcomings of Washington’s roster, there’s some risk of this becoming a trap game. Jay Gruden has had three extra days to prepare his team, and Cousins is capable of making momentum-shifting plays in a tight contest. If even a few Chargers start peeking ahead to Kansas City, this one could get dicey.
Chargers’ chances of victory: 65 percent.
Chargers at Kansas City, Saturday, Dec. 16: This is the game that could send the playoffs to StubHub Center.
Kansas City has imploded since its 5-0 start, most recently falling to the Jets in a shootout plagued by a baffling series of late-game penalties. The most damning moment came when cornerback Marcus Peters threw a penalty flag into the stands, then stormed off the field despite not…