By Matt Citak
One way of making it to the NFL postseason is by getting hot at the right time, and such is the case for the Los Angeles Chargers and Baltimore Ravens. The Chargers, winners of three straight and six of their last eight, currently find themselves in a three-way tie with the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders for first place in the AFC West at 6-6. With matchups against the Chiefs and Raiders still to come, combined with the level of play we have seen from Los Angeles over the last few months, the Chargers have a decent chance at making the postseason for the first time since 2013.
LA has been playing like one of the most well-balanced teams in the league in recent weeks. During their three-game win streak, the Chargers defense has held the Bills, Cowboys, and Browns to a combined 40 points. That shouldn't come as a surprise though, as Los Angeles is averaging a mere 17.7 points allowed per game, which ranks as the fourth-best mark in the league. Led by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram up front, and Casey Hayward, Jahleel Addae, Tre Boston and Trevor Williams in the secondary, the Chargers quietly boast one of the league's strongest defenses. But the Chargers' offense has stepped it up during this recent hot streak as well, scoring 101 points total over the last three wins. Philip Rivers has completed 72.2 percent of his passes for 1,029 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions over that span, and has the LA offense firing on all cylinders.
Baltimore also enters Week 14 as one of the league's hottest teams. The Ravens have won four of their last five games to catapult them into the second Wild Card spot, and their defense is playing as well as it ever has. Baltimore has allowed just 36 points total in their last three games, and have pitched two shutouts over their last five contests. On the season, the defense is ranked third in the league in points allowed per game (17.3) and passing yards per game (198.6), and is the biggest reason why Baltimore is sitting at 7-5.
One of the biggest weaknesses of this Ravens team has been the play of the offense. Led by veteran quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens rank 31st in the league with just 173.0 passing yards per game. During Baltimore's recent three-game win streak, Flacco has thrown for a total of 593 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. The former-Super Bowl MVP has just 11 passing touchdowns on the season to go along with 11 interceptions, and is currently sporting a Passer Rating of 77.1, which would rank as the second-lowest in Flacco's 10-year career.
CBS Sports and INSIDE THE NFL analyst Phil Simms weighed in on these two teams streaking at the right time, and what they have been doing well over the last few weeks.
Simms, along with Boomer Esiason, Ray Lewis, and James Brown break down this and other NFL storylines all season long each Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime's Inside The NFL.
CBS Local Sports: The Chargers are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now, winning six of their last eight games. How have they found so much success on both sides of the ball over the last two months?
Phil Simms: First off, they have a lot of talent on both sides. We're all seeing that and know that now. When you talk about the Chargers, you can't overlook the fact that Anthony Lynn, in his first head coaching job, took a while to adjust as a head coach. I'm sure he wanted to build a football team that was going to be tough and run the football a lot. But then after they lost a couple of games, he looked around and said, "Wow I've got Philip Rivers. We have some really good pass receivers and an offensive line that can pass protect." He turned it over to Philip Rivers, and that's one of the biggest reasons they are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now.
CBS Local Sports: The Ravens have rode the play of their stellar defense to a 7-5 record, but is their offense, led by veteran QB Joe Flacco, good enough to get Baltimore back to the postseason for the first time since 2014?
Phil Simms: That's a good question. The one thing I do like about the Ravens is that their defense is playing very well. They can cover people. They have great size. They can stand there and stop the run. But the offense struggles. They have a hard time getting receivers open. They have a hard time protecting Joe Flacco. But they do run the football. When you run the football and have a big defense like they do, it matches well together. The Ravens like to get in the game and "muck" it up and make it really dirty and ugly. That's the way they win. It's worked for them.
CBS Local Sports: It is far from guaranteed, but let's say the Chargers and the Ravens both make the postseason. Do either of these teams have a legitimate shot at taking down the Steelers or Patriots and making a deep postseason run?
Phil Simms: There's still a long way to go. Four games in the NFL is like two years. But of these two teams, [the one with a better chance at making a playoff run is] the Chargers. They don't really have any weaknesses when you look at their team. They have pass rushers. They have good linebackers that play well. They have a good cover corner, maybe one of the best in Casey Hayward. I love their safeties, Tre Boston and Jahleel Addae. And they're aggressive. The thing about the Chargers right now is they are on the edge of almost being out of control on both sides of the football, and that's where you play your best. And that's what we're seeing from the Chargers right now.
Matt Citak is a producer for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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