Two games into the season, every team in the AFC West can argue for its status among the NFL elite.
Every team except one.
Denver, Oakland and Kansas City are all undefeated. The Chargers, meanwhile, are winless. Sure, their two losses have come by just five combined points, but scoring margins don’t count in division standings. And given how brutal the AFC West looks so far, they don’t have much room for error — especially not with Kansas City coming to StubHub Center on Sunday (1:25 p.m., Ch. 2).
“It’s as good as I can remember in some time,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said of the quality of the division. “We’ve just got to hold up our end of it now.”
“You can’t afford to fall back,” said cornerback Casey Hayward.
Some could argue that the Chargers already have. Since 2007, according to OddsShark, 83 teams have started the NFL season with two losses. Of those, only nine rebounded to make the playoffs. But such numbers are reflective rather than predictive, and professional athletes are nothing if not stubbornly self-confident.
“I know there’s all the stats out there,” Rivers said, “about how many percentage of teams that start 0-2 make this — I know all those things are out there. But we have 14 games left. … There’s a lot of football left.”
Numerous times this month, the 35-year-old quarterback has shaken off suggestions of a nightmarish deja vu. The Chargers are 1-10 in one-score games since the start of last season, yes — but this year’s losses, Rivers argued, have not come as a result of “sloppy, bad football.” This version of the team simply hasn’t gotten into a good rhythm, despite its occasional sparks of promise.
Rivers also pointed to past comebacks as reason for hope.
In 2007, the Chargers started 1-3, but closed the regular season a six-game winning streak before eventually falling to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. The following season, the Chargers opened 0-2, but eventually clawed back to .500. And the year after that, they shook off a 2-3 start by reeling off 11 straight wins.
The problem? The AFC West was far weaker a decade ago. Through those three seasons, the Chargers were the only team in the division to make the playoffs. None of their rivals recorded a winning season during that span, allowing the Chargers to make the playoffs even in 2008 as an 8-8 team.
This year’s division looks as strong as it has ever been. Kansas City and Oakland both possess top-five…