41-28. That’s how the season ended last year for the Bolts. Coming off an incredible regular season where the young stars shined bright and the older vets played their parts, the Chargers were ultimately defeated in the Divisional Round of the playoffs by none other than the dynamic duo of Brady and Belichick. The Chargers exceeded expectations and finished the regular season 12-4, however, they fell short of their ultimate goal. With few key departures and several rookies that can make an immediate impact, it seems like this Los Angeles team might be the one to reach the Super Bowl next year.
Jahleel Addae and Tyrell Williams. Looking back at the Chargers transactions from this offseason, fans have to be thrilled to see that Addae and Williams are their only key departures. The depth of the roster and ability to have flexibility at multiple positions was crucial for this team last year, so it’s a great sign that they’ll continue to possess one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the entire league. Yes, Addae was a solid player in that secondary but there is enough talent in that room (Casey Hayward, Derwin James, Desmond King, Adrian Phillips) to make it work out just fine. His 75 tackles and one interception last year can be easily replaced by one of their best additions this offseason. Tyrell Williams is a solid #2 receiver, but the Chargers shouldn’t be worried about replacing his production. With the return of Hunter Henry and additional targets and opportunities for the emerging star Mike Williams, the Chargers aerial attack can be even better than last year. Melvin Gordon has been in the news for the last month or so, seeking a new contract and threatening to demand a trade and holdout during the season if the Chargers don’t pay him. This would be a massive blow as Gordon is one of their most talented players and the rest of the Chargers backfield is fairly lackluster. There seems to be an increasing probability that Gordon does not suit up for the Bolts this season as the two sides have been unable to find common ground and haven’t made substantial progress in contract negotiations. With only a few weeks until the season kicks off, the clock is ticking for the Charger’s to make a decision on their running back room for this year.
UPDATE: In the past couple of weeks, the Chargers have been bitten quite hard by the infamous off-season injury bug. In fact, two of their best players on the entire roster are currently in jeopardy of missing significant time during the regular season. Russel Okung, their anchor of the offensive line and blind-spot protector for Phillip Rivers, is dealing with an undisclosed injury that could make him miss a solid chunk of the season. This would mean the 11th ranked tackle in ProFootballFocus’s database would be replaced by 3rd round draft pick Trey Pipkins, not exactly the ideal situation for Phillip or the rest of the offense. In addition, the Chargers took a monumental blow in the last few days regarding their All-Pro second-year safety Derwin James. Arguably their best player on defense last year, James will have foot surgery to repair a stress fracture and will likely be out 3 to 4 months. This has to hurt worse than any other “departure” this off-season, as Derwin was poised for another spectacular season before finding out he won’t be able to return to the field until late November, best case scenario.
Thomas Davis, Tyrod Taylor, Jerry Tillery, Nassir Adderley, Drue Tranquill. When you only have one key departure on a deep and talented roster, there isn’t much work to be done in free agency. The Chargers spent their money wisely, giving out a contract to a former All-Pro linebacker in Thomas Davis and an experienced veteran signal-caller in Tyrod Taylor. Davis will help to mentor the young linebackers in Los Angeles including Denzel Perryman, Kyzir White, and Drue Tranquill, and will provide some added depth but also act as a coach on the field and a source of information for their developing core. Taylor will be a security blanket. Having started many games in the NFL since being drafted from Virginia Tech, Taylor has proved to be an average to decent starting QB who can win you a few games here and there in case of an Old Man Phil injury.
The real additions came in the draft, however, and the young rookies could turn out to be some really solid players. Tillery is an absolute beast of a man, but he plays with intelligence and poise on the field. He is a pass-rushing specialist from the interior, a position that the Chargers needed a vast upgrade in. At 6’7 and 295 pounds, this defensive tackle will give defensive coordinator Gus Bradley some options and abilities he didn’t have last year. Tillery finished his senior season at Notre Dame with an elite grade of 91.5, per ProFootballFocus, and was their 2nd best interior defender in the draft class as well. Jerry can give Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram an extra set of hands on the inside to attack the opposing QB with his plethora of beautiful pass-rush moves at his disposal. The trio of Ingram, Bosa, and Tillery could be a dominant one for not only this season but many years to come.
Nassir Adderley may have been their greatest acquisition all year. After losing Addae, the Charger’s second-round pick has the potential to start right away at free safety. Unfortunately, he will have to wait several months until playing alongside Derwin James. Adderley has incredible range, good fundamentals and mechanics in his technique that stems from his experience playing cornerback, and is simply a ball-hawking freak that makes plays in coverage and also in the box against the run. Gus Bradley has some serious work cut out for him trying to figure out how to best use this dynamic group of defensive backs. What makes it difficult is that his premier guy in the secondary will be trying to help him coach from the sidelines, and his production is insanely difficult to replace. The Chargers will expect a fast start from Adderley and Adrian Phillips to shoulder some of the load that Derwin was expected to carry.
The Chargers had a quiet offseason, but one that has positioned them for success this season. With only two starters being lost in free agency, the roster will look very similar to the players included in last year’s squad. Pair this with a strong and experienced coaching staff and a “win now” mentality and this is a tough team to beat. The Charger’s front office nailed the draft, except for maybe the 3rd round where they reached to take a questionable tackle in Trey Pipkins. Not many teams can say they have a Hall of Fame quarterback, and the Chargers need to capitalize this year and give Phil the ring he desperately deserves. The pieces are in place; the Chargers have a strong offensive and defensive line, a plethora of exciting young DB’s, a stout linebacking core, and a multitude of explosive weapons at River’s disposal. With the additions made in the draft, this Chargers team could very well find themselves in the AFC title game next year, but first, they’ll have to win their division.
As previously mentioned, this has to be a “Super-Bowl or Bust” year for the Bolts. The AFC title game is a reasonable expectation for this team if they can play up to their potential. Without breaking down their entire schedule, here are some crucial games the Chargers must win if they are to hoist the Lombardi trophy for the first time in franchise history:
Week 1 vs Colts- Season opener against another AFC Championship hopeful squad with loads of talent and great coaching. Week one is usually a mess, the Bolts will need to come prepared against this type of team.
Week 3 vs Texans- Crucial game to diminish the Texans chances of beating out the Chargers for a Wild-Card spot at the end of the year. The Texans will be a great football team this season, an important game to start 3-0 on the year.
Week 6 vs Steelers- Tough game with AFC playoff seeding implications. Rivers vs Roethlisberger is always a fun show and, even though the Steelers are without their two best offensive weapons from the last few years, (AB and Le’Veon) I expect James Conner and JuJu to pick up the slack and then some. This could be a 42- 38 type of game if the offenses are clicking.
Week 8 @ Bears- Challenging game on the road versus a team that can shut down any offense. I see the offense in Chicago improving this season, however, expect this to be a 13-6 type of game with the defenses controlling the tempo.
Week 11 vs Chiefs- Played in Mexico City, this game counts as the Chargers home game (yikes) vs their division rivals. This could be the deciding factor of who wins the division, and the Chargers must take care of business at “home”. This late in the season, injuries start to take a toll and it could be a game of who is more healthy at this point in the year. The Bolts will finish the season week 17 in Arrowhead, so it is absolutely crucial that they win this first game to give themselves some breathing room for the playoffs.
While every game in the NFL is important, these games stick out as the “must-win” games for the Bolts this year. In addition to these teams, the Chargers also must face the Chiefs week 17 in Arrowhead and the Raiders and Broncos both home and away. Furthermore, the Bolts will play the Lions, Packers, Dolphins, Titans, Jaguars and Vikings.
When it comes down to it, one simply cannot expect the Chargers to miss the playoffs given their talent and coaching. Even considering the massive loss of Derwin James and possibly Russell Okung and Melvin Gordon, the Chargers have experienced veterans at every position group and a coaching staff that is prepared and capable of making adjustments to allow this team to succeed and reach its full potential. To put a number on it, the Chargers will finish the year at 10-6. They will lose to the Colts, Texans, Bears, Packers, Chiefs, and Vikings. For their playoff standing, the Chiefs make this difficult. The series could easily be split, and expect the Chiefs and Chargers to both sweep the rest of the division. The Chief’s defense is still in the bottom half of the league however their offense is stellar, maybe even historic. It seems difficult to anticipate the Chiefs losing 5 games, and for that reason, the Chargers will hold the 5 seed in the AFC. The Chargers should ultimately be favored in Wild Card weekend versus any team that makes it there. They were able to take down the Ravens last year and there isn’t a team that would be favored to beat them this time around either. The Bolts should make it all the way to the AFC Championship game, where they play either the Chiefs, Colts or Patriots. To be honest, it’s difficult to pick a winner out of the AFC but the Chargers have as good of a chance as anyone to reach the Super Bowl. Predictions mean nothing at this point in the year, but it is interesting to go over the schedule and try to figure out which teams will be left standing after week 17.
This team is hungry, they are exciting and they are capable of claiming the throne to the AFC West with no doubt in my mind. Coach Anthony Lynn has a lot of work to do before his team even touches the field next season, but he should be anxious and eager to see what his team can do in the post-season this year.