When the Los Angeles Chargers got aggressive last season, taking advantage of cover flexibility with Justin Herbert still on the rookie trade, they weren’t aiming for a wild card. But the Kansas City Chiefs wouldn’t let them have any more than that, and at least the Chargers would have won that playoff game.
The Chargers went 27-0 in the playoffs against the Jacksonville Jaguars. In more than 100 years of NFL football prior to that Saturday night, a team had led by 27 or more points and lost only four times. Includes regular season and playoffs.
Everyone remembers what happened next. It was Peak Charger. Chargers lost – in regulation. Three of those four returns that covered 27 or more points ended in overtime. Los Angeles couldn’t even get the game into overtime. There’s a lot to go wrong to go down 31-3 in a playoff game, but if any franchise was going to do it, it was the Chargers. Even for the Chargers, the loss was notable: It was the biggest lead in franchise history. It was also the first time in game history that a +5 team finished in turnover margin and lost. This all happened after coach Brandon Staley played his key players with nothing on the line in Week 18 and a few were injured, including receiver Mike Williams, who missed a wild card game.
It’s not just one game. It’s years of strange losses and disappointments. The Chargers aren’t one of those franchises that haven’t picked up enough talent. They were fortunate enough to go from Philip Rivers to Herbert at quarterback. There were other Hall of Fame-level players to come through the organization. Seemingly every year we hear about how good the Chargers are on paper, and they’re a classy Super Bowl pick. They haven’t won a division title since 2009, with only two playoff wins since then. They have passed the divisional round once since 1994.
This is the charger. Why will 2023 be different?
There is still talent. Herbert wasn’t great last season, but he’s a top-ranked quarterback, and the hiring of Kellen Moore as the team’s new offensive coordinator should help. Perhaps Moore can see why the Chargers’ deep-passing game stalled last season despite having a quarterback with one of the best arms in the league. Offensive skill players like Austin Eckler, Keenan Allen, and Mike Williams are great, and the team added first-round player Quentin Johnston in this year’s draft. Defenders like Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack and Derwin James are superstars. Someone, somewhere is looking at the Chargers depth chart and talking about themselves in Los Angeles being a Super Bowl contender. It happens every year.
It’s an important year for Staley, who has made some controversial decisions the past two seasons and appeared to be on shaky ground after losing the Jaguars. Staley wasn’t fired, but it’s safe to assume he’s on the hot seat. Many of the Chargers’ stars aren’t necessarily old, but edge running backs Mack and Bosa, receivers Allen and Williams, Eckler and Corey Linsley, defensive tackles Austin Johnson, JC Jackson and Michael Davis will all be over 27 by the end of this season. He’s not a small core anymore, and they don’t have a lot of collegiate success on their resumes yet.
Maybe this is the season when all is well, with Herbert entering the MVP conversation, Bossa running for NFL Defensive Player of the Year and all the other chip players staying healthy and having great seasons. But we’ve heard that before.
It was a quiet time for the Chargers. They made most of their big moves last season. The only noticeable coming and going happened at noon. Drew Tranquil left for the Chiefs and was replaced by Minnesota Vikings’ Eric Kendricks. That’s about it. The Chargers’ biggest move was to resign offensive tackle Trey Pipkins to a three-year, $21.75 million deal. The draft was good, as first-round receiver Quentin Johnston topped the season. Unlike the last off-season, this one was pretty boring for the Chargers.
Justin Herbert extension coming soon. There hasn’t been much news about it, which is probably a good thing. At some point, Herbert will become the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL, or he will shut down. Then Joe Burrow would likely sign a deal with the Cincinnati Bengals that would beat out Herbert’s contract. Jalen Hurts signed a $51 million deal a season then Lamar Jackson surpassed that with $52 million, and you can expect Herbert to be in that neighborhood. Herbert has slipped a bit from a phenomenal 2021 season (5,014 yards and 38 TDs in 2021; 4,739 yards and 25 TDs last season), but his placement among the best quarterbacks in the NFL is very clear. He’ll get paid soon and will probably continue to put up some pretty good seasons, though his huge salary cap numbers will challenge the Chargers in the years to come.
Breakdown of BetMGM odds
The Chargers weren’t buried in the rankings, though, because they were a 10-win winning team and had a talented roster led by a good quarterback. But I’m not optimistic about them taking a positive step forward. Their win total is 9.5 at BetMGM, and I’m leaning, but I’d rather bet the Chargers not making the playoffs than odds of -105. Even if the Chargers win 10 games, I can’t pick them to win the division and the competition for the AFC top spots will be fierce. There are more than seven playoff-quality teams in the conference. Take the Chargers to miss the playoffs.
Take Yahoo Fictional
From Scott Pianowski of Yahoo: “There’s nothing wrong with choosing Keenan Allen, I think. It’s just a choice of floor.
Allen hasn’t played a full season since 2019. He’s never scored more than eight touchdowns in a year. Coming into his campaign at 31, the Chargers have beefed up their wide receiver room.
“If I’m going to justify this kind of pick, I want my other picks above the fold gleaming with the upside. In other words, Allen is a more reactive pick than a proactive pick for me this draft season. I prefer my early picks to be mostly Players are still on the escalator.”
Stats to remember
Austin Eckler wasn’t happy with his contract, and given the dying market for running backs, it’s easy to understand why he’d want a new deal. The Chargers added $1.75 million in incentives to the final year of Ekeler’s deal, and he said he’s not mad about the situation. This is fine because Chargers rely heavily on Ekeler. His 38 touchdown total over the past two seasons leads the NFL. He has 177 receptions in the past two seasons, including 107 last season. Ekeler will be 28 this season and will be able to produce another great season, after which he can see what awaits him in free agency. If Ekeler misses any time this season, the Chargers will quickly discover how valuable he is.
Can the defense make a big move?
The Chargers were supposed to be good on defense last season. They were mediocre at best. Joey Bosa missed most of the season with a groin injury. Cornerback JC Jackson, a huge free agent addition, struggled and then ended his season with a torn patellar tendon. Khalil Mack wasn’t bad but he didn’t look like the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The Chargers were decent against the pass and couldn’t stop the run at all. Defensive coordinator Rinaldo Hill left to join the Miami Dolphins staff, and was replaced by secondary coach Derek Ansley. There is a lot of work to do. It starts with getting healthy seasons from the team’s superstars. Maybe if that happens, and the Bosa/Mac-rushing duo lives up to last year’s hype, Jackson comes back and plays like an $82.5 million cornerback, and the change at linebacker is a positive, maybe he could be a Top 10 unit.
best case scenario
There is some alternate universe in which the Chargers don’t have the terrible luck of being injured, don’t blow up games in mind-blowing ways and actually become one of the NFL’s best teams. Justin Herbert has an edge in MVP. There is more than enough talent around him to have a top-five offense and the defense should be even better under Brandon Staley. can meet. If so, and you really want to be hopeful, maybe there is a way for the Chargers to win the AFC West title. It’s not like the list doesn’t have that ability.
Brandon Staley was a hothead at times in his senior season. Then he seemed to get conservative at the wrong times last season. He finished last season with two trips: allowing two starters to play (and get injured) in a meaningless game in Week 18, and a historic collapse in Jacksonville in the playoffs. It’s not often you hear heated speculation about coaches who won 10 games and made the playoffs, but there was some speculation for Staley after last season. If the offense doesn’t improve much with new coordinator Kellen Moore and the lack of a deep passing game continues to hamper Justin Herbert, and the defense fails to make any headway, the Chargers could miss the playoffs. If Staley was in trouble after last season, he certainly will be again if there isn’t a postseason for the Chargers.
crystal ball says…
I can’t trust chargers. I’ve been down this road many times, and it always ends in distress. They won’t be bad but they will leave everyone wanting more. I can’t get the Chargers ahead of the AFC West Chiefs, and the wild card race is going to be tough. The Chargers will be in the supplement bubble late in the season. Given their history, I’ll pinpoint some confusing losses that keep them out. If that happens, they will have to consider changing their coach.
Other team previews
32. Arizona Cardinals
31. Houston Texans
30. Chicago Bears
29. Tennessee Titans
28. Los Angeles Rams
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
26. Indianapolis Colts
25. Washington leaders
24. Las Vegas Raiders
23. Carolina Panthers
22. Denver Broncos
21. Atlanta Falcons
20. Green Bay Packers
19. New England Patriots
18. New York Giants
17. Minnesota Vikings
16. New Orleans Saints
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
14. Cleveland Browns
13. Los Angeles Chargers
12. Jacksonville Jaguars
11. Seattle Seahawks
10. Baltimore Ravens
9. Miami Dolphins
8. New York Jets
7. Detroit Lions
6. Dallas Cowboys
5. San Francisco 49ers
4. Buffalo bills
3. Cincinnati Bengals
2. Philadelphia Eagles
1. The Kansas City Chiefs