By consensus projection, the Chargers have a better than break-even shot to make the postseason.
A survey of various outlets Wednesday put their chances — expressed as a collective percentage — in the mid-50s.
A victory Sunday over seemingly playoff-bound Tennessee at SoFi Stadium would boost that number, probably by a significant amount.
As encouraging as this all might sound to the team’s fans, it’s important to remember what happened just a year ago.
Last December, the Chargers went to Cincinnati — the eventual AFC champion — and won 41-22 before returning home to slug the New York Giants 37-21, putting the game away in the third quarter.
At that point, they were 8-5 and held the conference’s No. 1 AFC wild-card spot. The Chargers trailed Kansas City by one game in the AFC West and had the Chiefs coming to visit for a Thursday night showdown.
ESPN put the Chargers’ chances of making the postseason at 84%.
Unfortunately for the Chargers and their fans, reality landed in that remaining 16%.
“We didn’t finish our season,” coach Brandon Staley recalled Wednesday. “I thought our guys competed, laid it on the line. But we didn’t get it done.”
The 2021 Chargers didn’t finish, so they instead were finished. They lost three of their final four, including a flustering defeat at lowly Houston on a day when both teams’ rosters were decimated by COVID-19.
Now, the 2022 version of the Chargers has reached its four-game stretch run with playoff aspirations still intact.
Sitting at 7-6, the Chargers are eighth in the conference, sharing the same record as the seventh seed New England Patriots and the ninth seed New York Jets.
It appears those three teams will battle for that seventh and final playoff berth, with the Chargers possessing at least two reasons to be encouraged.
First are the schedules. The Chargers’ remaining opponents have a combined record of 18-33-1. The Titans (7-6) are the last team with a winning record they’ll face. Tennessee has lost three in a row.
The Patriots’ remaining opponents are 32-20 and the Jets’ are 26-26. After visiting Las Vegas on Sunday, New England hosts Cincinnati, Miami and plays at Buffalo.
The Jets face a hot Detroit team Sunday, then play Jacksonville before finishing with consecutive road games against Seattle and Miami.
Second, the Chargers have health trending in their favor, something that hasn’t been the case all season.
Reserve tight end Donald Parham Jr. will be back Sunday, Staley said. Parham, who has been limited to 37 offensive snaps this season because of hamstring and concussion issues, offers a 6-foot-8 target for quarterback Justin Herbert.
The Chargers are expecting to get edge rusher Joey Bosa back before the end of the regular season. He has been out since Week 3, when he suffered a core muscle injury that required surgery.
They also could see the return of left tackle Rashawn Slater, who suffered a ruptured biceps the same day Bosa was hurt. Staley said this week he would not rule out Slater coming back before the regular season concludes.
Though the team didn’t practice Wednesday, the Chargers estimated that right tackle Trey Pipkins III (knee), defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day (knee) and cornerback Bryce Callahan (core muscle) would have been limited participants.
Those designations are notable since all three players sat out the Chargers’ victory Sunday over Miami.
Also notable, safety Derwin James Jr. remains out because of a quadriceps injury. Staley has offered nothing certain in terms of a timeline for James’ return.
Otherwise, the arrows seem to be pointing upward for the Chargers, exactly 12 months after their season spiraled downward.
“You have to be playing your best at the end,” Staley said. “It’s about how you finish in this league.”