Chargers burning question: Will luck come for this perennially snakebitten team?
Someone has a voodoo doll that looks very similar to Philip Rivers
The San Diego Chargers felt cursed in 2016. Snakebit is not a strong enough word to describe how unlucky the Chargers were in their final season in San Diego. The Los Angeles Chargers hope their luck is much better.
But things have not gotten off to a good start in the new city. Already the Chargers have lost second-round pick and presumptive starting lineman Forrest Lamp to an ACL tear. First-round pick Mike Williams, who they took No. 7 overall, might avoid back surgery but does not seem like a good bet to be ready for the regular season.
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This is not a new thing for the Bolts. In 2016, they finished 31st in Football Outsiders Adjusted Games Lost with 127.8. The year before the Chargers finished 26th, with 81.5 AGL. In 2014, the Chargers were 31st with 119.1 AGL. They are consistently one of the least healthy teams in football.
It's not difficult to imagine Philip Rivers on the last legs of his career, loudly screaming "daggumit" as he's heaving a Week 17 pass to a 35-year-old Seyi Ajirotutu in 2022, wondering how things have gone completely wrong for a ninth consecutive year.
Last year Rivers appeared to have an emerging star in Keenan Allen before the wideout, who fell in the draft because of injuries, went down with an emotional torn ACL in Week 1. He had been putting on a show, repeatedly beating Marcus Peters while catching six passes on seven targets for 63 yards when he was hurt. Allen would finish as one of the team's 10 leading receivers, ahead of Danny Woodhead, who went down the next week with a torn ACL as well.
The defense didn't get off light either, as emerging cornerback Jason Verrett suffered a torn ACL four games into the season.
Unless the Chargers are just poisoning their own water supply (or doing something less nefarious that is causing injuries to players), there should be positive regression coming at some point. They can't just routinely be one of the most injured teams in football year after year. On the other hand, it's hard to just assume the Chargers will be healthier this year when their top two draft picks are already going through issues. It's like they know how to spot people with avian bone syndrome or something.
The Chargers have also been terribly unlucky in one-score games in recent years.
|Year||Record in one-score games|
Over the past four years, the Chargers are 13-25 in one-score games. Incredible. They are either a) very unlucky and due for things to turn, b) cursed, or c) somehow prone to gagging away games late in a borderline institutional fashion.
Maybe d) all of the above? They have some real bad losses. Come for the botched snap on a chip-shot field goal, stay for the sideline shots of Rivers trying not to melt down.
Maybe they are cursed. Many believe that Rivers' college suffers from a unique brand of late-game pants messing, so it's possible that it's contagious.
It's also possible the Chargers just "don't know how to win," but if anything that feels like a manifestation and self-perpetuated situation created by fans and media. At some point midway through one of these seasons the Chargers probably realized it just wasn't their year, but these are the sort of narratives you can shrug off if the Chargers rip through a bunch of close wins.
Remember how the Raiders were a notoriously terrible franchise that was fantastic at losing for a long time? That went right out the window last year with Oakland going 8-1 in one-score games. NFL games are close by nature; an oblong ball bouncing in funny ways ultimately decides the outcome. These games are pretty close to coin flips in terms of which way they are going to go -- if you were willing to flip the Chargers' and Raiders' records in one-score games, the Bolts would have been the 12-win team last year, while the Raiders would have finished 5-11. It's an alternate reality, but not one that requires actual time travel to experience.
The Chargers are also a bizarre team to figure out because of the statistics they produced in 2016. Offensively, San Diego wasn't a surprise or hard to figure out from a traditional standpoint. They scored the ninth-most points of all NFL teams (25.6), had the 14th-most yards per game (356.8) and were 13th in yards per play (5.6). Melvin Gordon delivered on his promise (even if he overachieved on his touchdown total) and nearly topped 1,000 yards in his second season. Rivers was his usual exceptional self, aided by the emergence of rookie tight end Hunter Henry.
Advanced statistics were less kind. Football Outsiders ranked the Chargers as the 18th-best team in football on offense last year, very much a below-average unit. Pro Football Focus was even rougher, grading the Chargers as the 23rd-best offense in football. What it likely boils down to is a lack of efficiency -- at least six times last year the Chargers scored less points than they should have based on point expectancy.
Defensively, they were the reverse! The Chargers ranked poorly in traditional statistics. They gave up the 17th-most yards per game (347.1), the 12th-most yards per play (5.4) and the 29th-most points per game (26.4). FO loved the Chargers, ranking them seventh in defensive DVOA. PFF slotted the Chargers as the ninth-best defensive team in football.
Perhaps part of the issue was the not having rookie phenom Joey Bosa on the field for the start of the season. Bosa, when he did play, played really well. Everyone knows he won Defensive Rookie of the Year, but he was legitimately dominant. All the talk about his ceiling being capped before the draft was dumb at the time (yes, the 19-year-old college superstar is probably done growing as a player), and it looks idiotic now.
What makes Bosa an even more enticing player heading into 2017 is the change in defense with the arrival of Gus Bradley. The Chargers ran a 3-4 last year as their base defense, and part of the surprise with Bosa going to the Chargers was him appearing to be an obvious fit as a traditional 4-3 defensive end. He'll now get the opportunity to play that position on a full-time basis, lining up across from Melvin Ingram and giving the Chargers one of the best pass-rushing duos in football.
Add Corey Liuget and Brandon Mebane in the middle and Bradley could wreck some havoc with his defensive line. Denzel Perryman and Jatavis Brown emerged as nice, young pieces to work with from a linebacking perspective. If Verrett can stay healthy, he'll pair with Casey Hayward to create a formidable cornerback duo.
It's not hard to envision a world where the Chargers defense takes a huge leap from a traditional perspective and becomes more of a lockdown unit capable of limiting teams from hanging 30 burgers week in and week out. The Chargers also have a much easier schedule: only the Pats and Raiders loom as dangerous offenses before their Week 9 bye.
And this is where the Chargers start to look interesting as a contender in a tough AFC West. The Raiders could be primed for a bit of regression, thanks in large part to that inflated single-score number and a defense that might not be quite ready to turn the corner. The Chiefs have a capped ceiling, and the Broncos are in a real conundrum when it comes to their quarterback right now.
Maybe the Chargers are actually cursed and they'll just be employing a roster consisting of some weird mix of the Night King's army and Rivers' kids by the end of the season. Or maybe luck will finally shine on the Chargers for once, playing in their new city in a new small stadium. If things manage to swing back towards their favor, 2017 could be a fascinating year for an intriguing team.
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