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Why upcoming schedule could help Chargers qualify for playoffs

They led Kansas City by as many as seven points and by four points five different times and still led — 27-23 — in the game’s final minute.

They led San Francisco from early in the first quarter until midway through the fourth quarter and still had a chance in the final minutes until their last three possessions ended with a three-and-out, a four-and-out and an interception.

All those opportunities — and two crucial games — were lost for the Chargers over the last two Sunday nights, their season suddenly edging toward a breaking point with the arrival of Thanksgiving week.

“We played two really tough games in a row in prime time against two really quality teams,” coach Brandon Staley said Monday. “I feel like our level [of play] has been high. I think we know exactly where we stand right now in terms of the context of the NFL landscape.”

On the outside is where the Chargers stand, at 5-5 and ninth in the AFC, one game behind New England, Cincinnati and the New York Jets. The top seven teams in each conference advance to the postseason.

The Chargers have missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons and can’t lose too many more games to have any chance of ending that streak.

But it should be noted that the Patriots, Bengals and Jets all have remaining schedules that appear decidedly more difficult than what the Chargers are facing.

Over the last decade, the AFC’s seventh-place team finished with seven losses four times, eight losses three times, six losses twice and five losses once.

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“We definitely know that, right now, we are on the outside of the playoffs looking in,” wide receiver DeAndre Carter said. “We have to go get this win at Arizona and, hopefully, put some wins together.”

The Chargers’ Austin Ekeler (30) is stopped for a short gain as teammate DeAndre Carter (1) tries to hold off Chiefs corner Jaylen Watson.

(Robert Gauthier / VFAB)

The Chargers just lost to two teams that appear headed to the postseason, the Chiefs sitting atop the AFC at 8-2 and the surging 49ers entering their Monday night game at 5-4 and seventh in the NFC.

Of the Chargers’ remaining opponents, only two more — Miami and Tennessee — look like playoff participants. The Dolphins and Titans are each 7-3 and first in the East and South divisions, respectively.

Both of those games are at SoFi Stadium, which sounds encouraging but guarantees nothing. The Chargers have lost their last two at home and are only 2-3 in Inglewood this season.

This is a team struggling to make any statement at home, which seems fitting since the Chargers so often have to employ a silent count in their building.

“We’re just sticking together,” Carter said. “We know that we have a really good team. We have good players in the locker room. We believe in our culture, believe in our coaching staff.”

Beyond Miami and Tennessee, the Chargers’ other five remaining opponents have a combined record of 17-33-1 — a .343 winning percentage.

Those games all appear winnable, but the Chargers will have to produce on the road. They play at Arizona, Las Vegas, Indianapolis and Denver. Their other game is against the Rams at SoFi Stadium.

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“What we need to keep doing is making improvements on our football team, continue to get guys back and make that progress going into the next game,” Staley said. “As tough as it is … you can’t let those games affect your next one.”

The Chargers continue to bank on their improving health, the latest addition being wide receiver Keenan Allen.

Mike Williams came back Sunday, too, but didn’t make it through two series before aggravating his high-ankle sprain from last month. Staley said Williams’ latest tweak was “not a significant re-injury.” The Chargers will know more about Williams’ availability later this week.

Pro Bowl edge rusher Joey Bosa’s status also remains unresolved. He has missed eight weeks because of a groin injury that required surgery. Staley has said the team expects Bosa back at some point this season.

Linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. suffered a stinger Sunday night, said Staley, who added that Murray felt better Monday.

Running back Joshua Kelley is expected back in practice this week. He is eligible to return but remains on the injured reserve list because of a knee problem.

“It’s easy in the NFL when you go through these losing streaks to let people from the outside of the building try and break us apart within the locker room,” Carter said. “But our biggest thing is just us staying together, continuing to work, continuing to trust and believe in our culture and our program, and we’ll get it turned around.”

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