By: Rajan Nanavati
Earlier this week, Los Angeles Chargers’ running back Melvin Gordon went on ESPN’s (confoundingly terrible) television show “First Take” (which — just to reiterate — is groin-grabbingly terrible), and succinctly yet accurately summed up the current Real Estate occupied by the Chargers in the minds of almost all NFL fans:
“It’s easy to overlook us.”
Think about it: if you asked the majority of NFL fans to name the best three teams in the AFC on the spot, they’ll probably say Kansas City, New England, and probably Pittsburgh. And sure, the Chiefs and the Patriots are obvious answers, while the Steelers are once again sitting atop the AFC North thanks to their high-octane offense.
But shouldn’t we be talking about the Chargers a lot more than we already are? After all, they have the same number of losses as the Patriots (and only one less loss than the Chiefs and/or Los Angeles Rams), and haven’t lost a game in over six weeks.
Heading into last weekend, much of the league was buzzing around the not-as-terrible-as-we-thought Seattle Seahawks, who had won four of their past five games. Yet, not only did the Chargers go into CenturyLink Field and cool-off the red-hot Seahawks, but they beat them by more than seven points, and held Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson to his second-lowest quarterback rating and passer rating of the season.
As long as Phillip Rivers is the Chargers’ quarterback, they’ve always got a chance to score on the opposing defense.
Rivers is throwing for over 280 yards per game, and is currently sitting in 4th place in the NFL in total touchdown passes (19); he’s actually on pace to set a new career-high in the latter stat category. Heading into their game against Seattle, the Chargers had the #3 offense according to Football Outsiders Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) metric, including the third-ranked passing offense and the sixth-ranked rushing offense.
While we’ve usually equated the Chargers to having an above-average secondary, the defense as a bit shakier earlier on in the season, although any defense would appear shaky if two of their first three games of the year were against the Chiefs and Rams. Still, while the Chargers are closer to a middle-of-the-pack group on defense (14th in overall DVOA and 20th in rushing defense DVOA), who knows how that will be bolstered with the eventual return of pass rushing ace Joey Bosa. Rejoining Bosa with Melvin Ingram is not a tandem that opposing defenses will be looking forward to this season.
Speaking of opponents: while the Chargers still have to play the Chiefs and Steelers on the road, and host Baltimore at home, Los Angeles has a chance to fatten up their 6-2 record with games against Oakland and Arizona, plus two games against Denver (led by soon-to-be-fired head coach Vance Joseph). With that slate of games, it’d be nothing short of a disappointment if they didn’t win at least nine games by season’s end.
Given that the “next tier” of teams in the AFC, below the Chiefs, Patriots, and maybe the Steelers, is totally up for debate, wouldn’t it seem fairly obvious that the Chargers appear to be a near-lock for one of the Wild Card spots?
It’s all so ironic. How often do we see a team who’s on pace to win 12 games this year, with a quarterback who will at least be in the Hall of Fame conversation someday, who nobody is talking about?
Keep an eye on the Chargers, because we’ll be hearing – and seeing – a lot more from them, for the remainder of the season… if we bother to pay attention, that is.