The Los Angeles Chargers’ win last Thursday over the Kansas City Chiefs shifted the AFC playoff picture, and a pair of possible returns from injuries could buoy the Bolts’ chances of earning a bye.
Star running back Melvin Gordon and third-year tight end Hunter Henry returned to practice for the Chargers on Monday, as the team hopes to capture its first AFC West title since 2009.
Gordon, who apologized to fantasy owners for missing the past three weeks with a knee injury, was limited in practice after narrowly missing playing in last Thursday’s game. Gordon was limited in practice last Tuesday and Wednesday, and head coach Anthony Lynn said he likely would have played had the game been on a Sunday.
Hunter, notably one of Stephen A. Smith’s favorite players, has been out all year since tearing his ACL in May. He was expected to miss the entire season but returned to practice for the first time Monday. Since he is still on the physically unable to perform list, the Chargers have 21 days to activate him or lose him for the rest of the season.
Beyond the possible returns of Gordon and Henry, the Chargers are also expecting Austin Ekeler and lead receiver Keenan Allen, who left the Week 15 game early with a hip injury, to return against the Baltimore Ravens.
What could Gordon and Henry’s impacts be?
When healthy, Gordon and Henry have been two of the biggest impact players in the AFC at their respective positions.
Gordon has averaged a career-high 5.2 yards per carry this season, which is tied for fifth-best in the league. The Chargers won all three games this season without him, but Ekeler (5.1 YPC) suffered a neck injury after filling in admirably for Gordon, and there’s no replacing Gordon over a prolonged period.
Henry, meanwhile, was excellent in his first two seasons after winning the John Mackey Award as the top tight end in college and being drafted 35th overall in 2016. His eight touchdowns were the fourth-most ever by a rookie tight end, and he racked up more receptions and yardage with a better catch rate in his second season.
How does this affect the Chargers’ playoff seeding?
At 11-3, no team in the AFC has a better record than the Chargers, but unfortunately for them, they share a division with the Chiefs. Since Kansas City (11-3) holds the tiebreaker with a better record in division games, the Chargers will need to win one more game than the Chiefs in the last two weeks to secure the bye and avoid falling to the No. 5 seed.
According to FiveThirtyEight, the Chargers currently have a 24 percent chance of winning the division. A Week 16 Chiefs loss would raise their chances to 48 percent, while a Chargers loss would drop it to just 3 percent.
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