This is finally the year for the Chargers. That's what we've been told anyway, with Los Angeles building out a dangerous-looking roster on both sides of the ball.
Defensively, the Chargers were a top-five team in points allowed last year and only got better this offseason. Stealing Derwin James with a late first-round pick is grounds for criminal charges, and doubly so when the versatile safety gets to join a defense that already features Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram rushing the passer. Casey Hayward has emerged at cornerback as one of the great free-agent steals in recent memory, and if Jason Verrett can play a full season, the Bolts are loaded in the backfield. Corey Liuget will be suspended for the first four games next year, but they've got Justin Jones ready to fill in. The linebacker group isn't loaded, but Denzel Perryman is underrated, and James' presence should boost their run defense. This group has top-five potential next year.
Offensively, Philip Rivers remains the stalwart under center. Keenan Allen was setting records in the middle of last season for consecutive games with 10 catches, 100 yards and a touchdown, ripping off an incredible run. He should only get better a full season removed from an ACL tear. Melvin Gordon hasn't hit his ceiling yet as a full runner. Mike Williams was a top-10 pick last year and almost feels like an afterthought. He'll need to fill the void created by the loss of Hunter Henry, who suffered a torn ACL in May. It's that kind of injury that makes one pause when examining just how good the Chargers can be. They've been snakebitten before and, boy, does that feel like something similar. This offensive line might be the best Rivers has had since LaDainian Tomlinson's heyday.
In fact, the only thing that makes the Chargers a questionable contender is the idea of the Chargers actually being a contender. They won nine games last year despite starting 0-4 and they started 0-4 despite having a 99 percent win expectancy in two of those games. They lose despite themselves and it's hard to win a Super Bowl when bad juju and ugly mistakes are lurking around every corner.
Maybe this year is finally different? Vegas seems to think so,, a HEFTY number for a team that hasn't been in the playoffs in quite some time.
Desperately wish you had a 30-minutes-or-so, daily NFL podcast in your podcast app every morning by 6 a.m.? Put some Pick Six Podcast in your life and join Will Brinson as he breaks down the latest news and notes from around the league, as well as the . It's a daily dose of football to get you right for that commute or gym trip. Subscribe: via iTunes | via Stitcher | via TuneIn | via Google Play
Early Schedule Analysis
This is an extremely friendly schedule for Los Angeles. If they don't limp out of the gate, they could start hot, with games against the Chiefs (home) in Week 1, Bills (road) in Week 2, Rams (road) in Week 3, and 49ers (home) in Week 4. The Chiefs could be explosive but it's Patrick Mahomes' first game as full-time starter and the 49ers might be too hyped right now. They then play the Raiders (home) in Week 5, before drawing the Browns (road) in Week 6 and Titans (home) in Week 7. A pair of road games coming out of the bye feature the Seahawks and Raiders. Week 11 and Week 12 are home games against the Broncos and Cardinals. They've only had 1-2 games where they won't be favored so far. They go to Pittsburgh in Week 13 to play the Steelers, then close out with the Bengals (home), Chiefs (road), Ravens (home) and Broncos (road). Again: very friendly schedule.
Why They'll Go Over
If Rivers is healthy and doesn't lose all his weapons before the season starts and gets protected, this should be something resembling a seven-win team. Mix in a stout defense -- assuming no major regression or injuries -- and it's easy to see how the Chargers could pile up some wins in a hurry. If they enter their Week 8 bye below .500, things have gone HORRIBLY wrong, and they would still have a chance to hit the over number, it would just take them closing out 6-3 or something like that. The addition of Mike Pouncey, the return of Forrest Lamp and the development of Dan Feeney should mean that Rivers is getting protection. If you give him time in the pocket, he is going to carve people up. The Chiefs have a greater upside than we previously knew, but they also have a greater downside. The Raiders are a wild card and the Broncos should be similar to last year with more offensive potential. In other words, the division is difficult but certainly winnable for a team like L.A.
Why They'll Go Under
Rivers could fall off a cliff this season. He's going to go like Peyton Manning did -- he's an old-school, pocket quarterback who doesn't look like he's eating avocado ice cream during the offseason to try and remain pliable. The dropoff will probably come quick, but I wouldn't bet on it happening this year if it was me. Last year was an anomaly of sorts for Allen, who remained healthy. The defense could be good without being great. Gordon might struggle and behind him is Justin Jackson, the rookie out of Northwestern and Austin Ekeler, who profiles more as a third-down back. They're not deep at the running back position. There's a universe where this offense is disappointing or too injured (see: Henry) to be great. The Chiefs could be incredible with Mahomes. The Raiders could be better than we think under Jon Gruden. The Broncos could be a division winner with Case Keenum in the fold. There's a LOT of things that can derail a Chargers season. Maybe they have a terrible kicking game again and magically lose two of their first four games.
I'm not gonna bet on it though. I like the Chargers this year, again. A lot. Even more than before, if that was possible. The Chiefs terrify me, but even if Los Angeles blows a game or two, they should be able to pile up 10 wins on this schedule. If they get to 6-1 or even 5-2 before the bye, which is totally possible, it's over. I think they finally start hot and take the top off this year.
VERDICT: OVER (9)