The Los Angeles Chargers have made the playoffs just once in the last eight years. They’re the Chargers — they’re like the anti-MacGyver. Even with the best assets, they find a way to fail.
Last season, for example, they went with a rookie kicker over established veteran Nick Novak. Three of their first four games came down to field goals. And they lost all of those games because of a missed kick. Then they cut Younghoe Koo, and re-signed Novak. During Week 6, his second game back with the team, Novak hit a game-winning field goal as time expired.
The Chargers finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. Had Novak hit two of the three kicks that Koo missed, the Chargers (in theory) would have made the postseason by jumping over the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional standings. But that didn’t happen. The Chargers charger’d.
This 2018 team will be different.
The Bolts are stacked with enough talent. Even they can’t mess this up.
They’ve got quarterback Philip Rivers, who has thrown for over 4,000 yards in nine of the last 10 seasons. They’ve got a healthy Keenan Allen, whose surged in the second half of the 2017 season after recovering from an ACL in 2016. The Chargers boasted the NFL’s top passing offense in 2017 with 276.9 yards per game. Melvin Gordon has emerged as a reliable player in the running and passing game with 1,581 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns in 2017.
On defense, they’ve combined Joey Bosa — who has been an instant success in the NFL with 23 sacks in his first two NFL seasons — with Melvin Ingram, who had 10.5 sacks in 2017. And the Chargers secondary is impressive with rookie safety Derwin James joining star cornerback Casey Hayward. They helped L.A. finished with the third-fewest passing yards per game allowed at 197.2. The problem was their run defense, which was second worst in the NFL in yards per game. Ultimately, that run defense didn’t really matter. They allowed the fewest points per game in the NFL at 17 with the third-best turnover differential at plus-13.
If the potent offense can recreate the second half of their season (when they averaged 25.6 points per game), then their defense should be able to take care of the rest.
With so much uncertainty in the AFC West, the Chargers should have an easy path to win the division. The Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos are working with new quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes and Case Keenum. They should both be on-par with the previous quarterback, but the Chargers have the luxury of facing the Chiefs at home in Week 1, in Mahomes’ second career start. (His first was a throwaway game in Week 17 last season). That should be a good way to get a win in-hand against the team that’s likely to be their best competition in the division.
That’s the beginning of Los Angeles’ favorable schedule, which includes the Bills, the Cardinals, the Browns, the Bengals and the Raiders (twice).
The Chargers should be a 12-win team, and perhaps the top seed in the AFC for the playoffs. That’s when things will get interesting, as Anthony Lynn would be in the playoffs for the first time as a head coach. Rivers has played just two postseason games since 2009 and nine games on his career averaging 240.5 yards per game, 1.2 touchdowns, 1.0 interception.
That said, their biggest obstacles in the AFC are the New England Patriots, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Pittsburgh Steelers. New England may have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but this offseason has felt different with rumors of unrest within the organization and significant departures at receiver (Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola) and left tackle (Nate Solder). The Steelers are (as usual) a hot emotional mess. And while the Jaguars defense is outrageously good, they are stuck with quarterback Blake Bortles, who isn’t the caliber of quarterback that inspires strong Super Bowl odds.
Yet somehow, the Chargers are almost a dark-horse to win the AFC in the regular season and postseason. That’s largely because they’re the second best team in their city (behind the more exciting Rams), they started last season 0-4 and were immediately irrelevant, they have a no-name coach and they have a quarterback who’s individual stat lines are impossibly incongruous with the team’s win totals and postseason appearances.
Despite of all that, the Chargers should be the AFC’s best team in 2018.