COSTA MESA, Calif. — Can the Los Angeles Chargers turn a perceived weakness into a strength?
Now in their second season playing at the 27,000-seat StubHub Center — the team’s temporary home until the new Inglewood stadium is complete in September of 2020 — players initially struggled to deal with the fact that at times opposing fans took over the stadium.
“That’s our home where we have to play,” Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said. “We can’t control who’s there. We understand the situation here in California. It’s a great place to visit. A lot of visiting team’s fans, if they’re going to watch a game on the road, they’re probably going to come here. There’s a lot to do here.
“So it’s just part of it. We’ve just learned to focus on the opponent, not worry about who’s in the stands and go play ball.”
However, with the Chargers sitting at 11-3 and tied atop the AFC West division standings with the Kansas City Chiefs, there remains a possibility that the Bolts could host a playoff game at StubHub.
The cleanest way for the Chargers to host a playoff game would be to win out, and for the Chiefs to lose one of their two remaining games — either on the road against the Seattle Seahawks or at home against the Oakland Raiders for the season finale. The Chargers finish their regular-season home schedule against the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night and then travel to play the Denver Broncos in Week 17.
Usually, teams that host playoff games have an advantage of reaching the Super Bowl. According to ESPN Stats & Information, from 2013 to 2017 nine of the 10 No. 1 seeds in the AFC or NFC reached the Super Bowl.
According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Chargers have a 27 percent chance of earning the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.
“It would be different obviously if we get it — we all know that,” quarterback Philip Rivers said after last week’s win over the Chiefs. “But it ain’t no doubt it’s better than playing [in Kansas City], or New England, or in Baltimore or in Houston — or anywhere else we’re going to have to go.
“At least we’ll be able to hear a little bit. And I do think if that were to come to [fruition], it would be a heck of an atmosphere in the StubHub.”
Of course, these Lynn-led Chargers are not your usual team. Since relocating to Los Angeles, the Chargers are an identical 10-5 at StubHub Center and on the road. They have wins at three of the most difficult venues in the NFL this season: at Seattle, at Pittsburgh and last week at Kansas City.
“This whole situation with the move and everything just made this team tougher and more resilient,” Lynn said. “They’re able to stay focused on the task at hand and the things we value.
“From day one we’ve said we’re always going to compete, be a tough football team — and that’s not physical, that’s mental toughness and professional preparation — all the little details that go into winning. And we’re selfless. We don’t care who gets the credit, we just want to lift each other up and play for one another. I don’t think there’s anything more powerful.”
With the Los Angeles Rams losing two straight games and showing some vulnerability in terms of their chances to make a deep postseason run, Chargers defensive end Damion Square said he’s noticed a difference around town, with more NFL fans in L.A. showing interest in the Chargers.
“Of course, that’s what people do,” Square said. “And they should, that’s what we provide for them. If we win, we want them to get behind us. I like it. We’re the team to root for, and we don’t want to let them down, or the loyal fans down.
“We step on the field and we try to put a good product out there — and we look good doing it, I might add,” he said laughing. “We embrace it. If we make plays everybody turns into our fans in the stadium. That’s just how football goes.”
Lynn said it doesn’t matter whether his team plays at home or on the road in the postseason.
“We’re thrilled to get in, and now we’re focused on winning our division,” Lynn said. “However it plays, whether we’re the No. 1 seed or the No. 5 seed, we will be ready.”
But Square begs to differ.
“It matters,” he said. “When you travel you’ve got to leave your family. That’s the thing that matters the most. Who wouldn’t want to go get a ‘W’, and then come home to his kids, his wife and his family, and get some good food?
“Of course you want to do it here. I want to do it here, so it does matter.”