Halfway through the AFC West and we come to Los Angeles where the Chargers look set to launch another salvo at reaching the Super Bowl. Of course, after going 12-4 and reaching the AFC Division, where they were promptly thrashed by the New England Patriots, the question with this team, which has struck an excellent balance between young and veteran talent, is did they peak last year or do they have more left in the tank? Veteran Quarterback, Philip Rivers, who turns 38-Years Old in December can’t play forever, and just recently their Pro-Bowl Tailback, Melvin Gordon, requested a trade after tenuous negotiations on a contract extension. Granted, Management refused said request, but it’s become clear that not everything is ideal in the City of Angels. So with that said, is the Chargers’ Super Bowl Window still open, or will they take a step back in 2019? read on and find out…
Entering the Twilight
Entering his sixteenth year in the NFL, Philip Rivers (68.3%, 4,380 YDS, 7.60 NY/A, 32 TD, 12 INT, 71.2 QBR) is nearing the end of what is certainly a Hall of Fame career, though even with all of the accolades that he’s earned there is still one who left on his CV, and that’s a Lombardi Trophy. A serious argument can be made that in comparison to the other two decorated Quarterbacks from that loaded 2004 Draft Class, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, that Rivers has enjoyed a better career, even with the other two combining for a whopping four Lombardi Trophies. Heading into 2019, the 37-Year Old ranks Eighth All-Time in Passing Yards (54,656) and Passer Rating (95.6), and Sixth in Passing Touchdowns (374), with an opportunity to continue to climb the ranks of NFL History. It’s not like he’s shown any indication of slowing down either; in 2018 he completed 68.3% of his Attempts (2nd-highest in his career), threw for Thirty-Two Touchdowns (3rd-highest of his career), averaged 7.60 Net Yards per Attempt (his highest since 2010), and posted a QBR of 71.2 (3rd-highest of his career). The eight-time Pro-Bowler is also tough as nails, having started every game for the Chargers over the past thirteen seasons, so inexplicably falling off the proverbial cliff seems unlikely, particularly when you consider how so many of his contemporaries have continued to play at a high level later in their careers. While he doesn’t need a championship to validate his stellar career, one can’t help but feel that he’ll never be spoken in the same breath of the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, or even Roethlisberger and Manning due to his body of work in the Postseason. Unfair as that is, it remains reality when judging these Quarterbacks. Rivers has gone to the playoffs six times, making Eleven Starts, in which he’s gone just 5-6, completing 59.4% of his Passes for an average of 241.5 Yards, with Fourteen Touchdowns and Ten Interceptions. Coincidentally half of his defeats have come at the hands of Brady and the Patriots, including last year’s embarrassing 28-41 thumping in the AFC Division Round, in which he completed 25-of-51 Attempts for 331 Yards, Three Touchdowns and an Interception, though most of that production came after Halftime where they trailed 7-35.
Trouble in Paradise
In an Offseason that has been highlighted by disgruntled players clamoring for more lucrative deals, the Chargers currently find themselves in quite a predicament: Pro-Bowl Tailback, Melvin Gordon (175 CAR, 885 YDS, 5.1 Y/C, 10 TD), is coming up on the last year of his Rookie Contract, and wants a hefty extension, and he wants it now. With his counterpart on the other side of Los Angeles, Todd Gurley, getting a huge extension, the 26-Year Old is aiming high, and has decided to hold out until Management meets his demands. It’s no question that this guy has outplayed his current contract; Gordon has been an integral part of the Chargers’ attack over the past three years, proving equally adept at catching passes out of the Backfield as he is patiently working his way through the Line of Scrimmage, averaging 1,457.3 Total Yards per Game, while logging Thirty-Eight Touchdowns to boot. Needless to say, he’s certainly earned himself a raise. However, Los Angeles has been very reluctant to hand him anything close to what Gurley received (4-year, $57 Million Extension, with $45 Million guaranteed). It’s no secret that it’s akin to pulling teeth for these teams when negotiating a big payday with Tailbacks, given their probability of injury, and it should be noted that Gordon has missed seven games over the past three years, including four in 2018. Just look at what Le’Veon Bell went through over the past two years in Pittsburgh, or what Ezekiel Elliott is currently going through in Dallas. Bell eventually got his money, but not after sitting out an entire season in which he forfeited millions of dollars, so if Gordon is dead-set on getting what he’s worth, then he had better be prepared to fight for it. And it’s with that said that he recently demanded to be traded to a team that will pay him, which is a logical step in negotiations, for we’d imagine that there would be a lengthy line of suitors if he was made available. In the meantime, Anthony Lynn & Co. really need him on the football field, particularly as they look alleviate the burden on Rivers’ shoulders as the aging Quarterback enters the twilight of his career.
A major reason for the Chargers’ resurgence in 2018 was the ascension of their Defense, which under the guiding hand of Defensive Coordinator, Gus Bradley, emerged as one of the more staunch units in the league. Last Season, Los Angeles ranked Sixth in Points Allowed (20.6), Eleventh in Total Defense (333.7), and Ninth against both the Pass (227.9) and versus the Run (105.8). Furthermore, they were one of the toughest teams to score against in the Red Zone, permitting a Touchdown on just 50.0% of their opponent’s opportunities. By the end of the season, they sent three of their number to the Pro Bowl, with just as many being selected First Team All-Pro. Chef among them was Derwin James (105 TKL, 4 TFL, 6 QBH, 3.5 SK, 3 INT, 13 PD), who led the team in Tackles (105), Interceptions (3), and Passes Defended (13). The Safety was utilized all over the gridiron, and proved to be integral in the Chargers’ 23-17 victory at Baltimore in the Wild Card Round, where he spied the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson throughout the contest, neutralizing the Rookie Quarterback altogether. Fellow Defensive Backs Adrian Phillips (94 TKL, 4 TFL, 1 QBH, 1 FF, 1 INT, 9 PD) and Desmond King (62 TKL, 4 TFL, 2 QBH, 1 FF, 2 FR, 3 INT, 10 PD, 1 TD) were fantastic, while Edge Rushers, Melvin Ingram (43 TKL, 8 TFL, 16 QBH, 7.0 SK, 1 FF, 2 FR, 1 INT, 3 PD) and Joey Bosa (23 TKL, 7 TFL, 9 QBH, 5.5 SK, 1 FR) routinely made life hell for opposing Quarterbacks. With each of these players under the age of Thirty, there is no reason to think that this group won’t continue to grow, particularly if Bosa can continue to stay healthy; the Defensive End missed the first nine games of the season with a foot injury, but once he returned, the unit as a whole took it’s play to another level.
2019 Forecast: 9-7
After really coming on in 2018 and finishing the campaign 12-4, many people are high on the Los Angeles Chargers heading into 2019, with many branding them as a dark horse contender to come out of the AFC come Super Bowl LIV. They certainly have the firepower on both sides of the football, with a consistently prolific Quarterback, one of the game’s most versatile Tailbacks, and a young Defense absolutely loaded with talent. If everything falls into place, this team should absolutely be among the favorites to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. However, there are many variables that come into play here for that to even happen. Will Rivers continue to avoid succumbing to the rigors of age and injury? Will Gordon be lining up in their Backfield, or someone else’s? Or how will the Offensive Line hold up without Left Tackle, Russell Okung, who will miss an undetermined amount of time after being diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism? Furthermore, the AFC West is far form a cakewalk given the presence of the Kansas City Chiefs, and what should be an improved Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos. While their ceiling is a Super Bowl Championship, we think it’s far more likely that they’ll be fighting for a Playoff Spot, with a Wild Card once again looking like their most apparent route.