For a team who finished 5-11 in 2019, the Los Angeles Chargers own a team who finished in the top 10 in both total offense and total defense. They also kept games close, but an unfortunate event or two occurred, and the team suffered double-digit losses.
Their roster is beyond star-studded, perhaps one of the most in the NFL. And their first eight games of the season look favorable, which can set a positive tone for 2020. They also know how to keep drives alive, given their high third-down conversion percentage.
So, despite the poor finish and new quarterbacks here, there are reasons to believe the Chargers will own their 7.5 over/under projection. Here are five reasons explained in greater depth to better help your NFL betting in 2020.
1 – Living in the Top 10
As mentioned in the intro, the Chargers ranked in the top 10 in both offense and defense. They were 10th overall in total offense and sixth overall in total defense. They also owned the sixth-ranked passing attack in the league.
Sure, quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert are no Philip Rivers, who is now with the Colts in Indianapolis. But they keep the same core players from last season with Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler, and Hunter Henry.
Each of them are dynamic players who will help their new quarterbacks while also creating opportunities for the back end players like Virgil Green, Andre Patton, Joe Reed, and K.J. Hill to shine.
The Chargers ranked fifth in passing defense, where Bosa and Ingram forced them to throw before they were ready, meaning they had to contend with a strong defensive backfield. And that defensive backfield grew stronger.
While the Chargers have two new quarterbacks lining up under center in Tinseltown, their overall units will still repeat their efficacy in 2020. They have 17 starters returning and added a blue-chip starter at corner, while a dynamic back takes over the starting role on offense. This team seems destined to succeed.
2 – Star-Studded Offense Lighting Up LA
Talk about rolling out the red carpet during the team’s first season in SoFi Stadium. As mentioned, quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert are nothing special and if they played for teams with lesser talent, you can expect struggles.
But hey, who cares that the team doesn’t have a big-name quarterback in 2020? Let’s look at each star individually, starting with running back, Austin Ekeler.
Ekeler emerged as one of the best dual-threat running backs in football. Perhaps he’s a poor man’s Christian McCaffrey. The formerly undrafted free agent from some school called Western State started his career with LA as a role player in 2017.
He’s since become a fair running back and a dynamic pass catcher, amassing 92 receptions for 993 yards on his way to scoring 8 receiving touchdowns. This helps the new quarterbacks out with a legitimate check down receiver.
Everyone’s saying Keenan Allen will suffer without Rivers. Okay, so maybe he’ll regress as Taylor and Herbert favor the safer options. But in 2019, he had 104 receptions for 1,199 yards. He’s a terrific possession receiver and route runner.
Allen will remain a tremendous help to Taylor and Herbert, given his ability to get open and make plays. Mike Williams is a perfect complement to Allen, and his 20.2 yards per receptions shows he will make a good fit for Herbert, whose six-foot-six frame possesses a laser arm. While he’s not the most accurate quarterback, expect Herbert to hook up often with Williams, even in Year 1.
Hunter Henry is in a fantastic role for Tyrod Taylor. Taylor loves throwing to the tight end, and Henry is emerging as a solid target.
So, while Taylor and Herbert have their limitations, they also have players who will help them and the team regardless of who’s taking snaps under center. Often, timeshares don’t work in the NFL or any level of football.
But given the offense laden with stars, expect Taylor and Herbert to perform better than advertised, regardless of who starts at the game’s most important position. Given the fact that they won’t throw for as many yards as their predecessor, neither are turnover nor sack-prone. This cost the Chargers games in 2019.
3 – The Front Eight
The Chargers play in six winnable games from Week 1, when they travel to Cincinnati to play the Bengals, all the way to Week 9, when they host the Las Vegas Raiders.
You only need to worry about Weeks 2, 4, and 5 when they play the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and New Orleans Saints. Expect three losses there, but the Chargers can certainly win the other six.
Pro NFL bettors know you can’t beat this schedule next to the hard luck games against the Chiefs, Bucs, and Saints.
While it’s premature to believe the Chargers will win each of these contests, you can bet they should pull out at least three, if not five, of them.
Cincy is more than beatable, as are the Panthers, Dolphins, Jets, and Jags. Even if the Chargers play the rookie over the veteran in Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, they still smash each of the mentioned teams from a talent standpoint.
The Chargers could find themselves somewhere between 4-5 and 5-4 at the bye, giving them a chance to charge through their over/under. The two games on the back end of the schedule against the Denver Broncos will help, and you can expect a split if not a sweep.
That leaves them with games against Buffalo, New England, Atlanta, and another date with both Vegas and Kansas City.
4 – Converting the Rock
In 2019, the Chargers were one of the best at converting the rock on third downs. Don’t expect it to change in 2020.
For one, they now have mobility in Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert rather than the traditional pocket passer in Philip Rivers. That alone will allow the Chargers to convert via the quarterbacks’ legs rather than taking a shot downfield or trusting the arm, as Rivers loved to do during his 16 seasons with the team.
As mentioned, they have a fantastic check down option in Ekeler, who excels on flares, circles, screens, and flat patterns, allowing them to convert on third and short. Ekeler can also run the ball between and outside the tackles, averaging 4.2 yards per carry in 2019.
Then, there’s Allen, one of the league’s most reliable possession targets. He will make life easy for Taylor and Herbert, given their limitations. Look for Allen to be the go-to wideout on third and medium.
Not that the Chargers will improve on their 44% third-down conversion percentage, good enough for sixth in the league. It may even drop. But they have the tools to keep drives alive during the game, play ball control, and eke out wins in 2020 in games they would’ve lost in 2019.
5 – That Last Push
The Chargers struggled in 2019 at winning games within one possession, but they proved they can keep them close with the league’s best teams. As mentioned often in this article, don’t expect a drop-off because Philip Rivers is no longer with the team.
The guy was sack-prone and interception-prone, and it cost the Chargers often. While you will see a learning curve from Justin Herbert and possibly Tyrod Taylor, their mobility will allow them to stretch the play and give their receivers a better chance to get open.
It also didn’t help that the team lost the turnover battle, ranking 31st out of 32 teams. So, don’t discard the Chargers because they finished 3-9 in games where a single possession decided most games. Instead, realize the team has a better shot to win in 2020, even with lesser experienced quarterbacks given their trendy attributes.
Sure, you will see Herbert force some passes early on. But hey, the schedule is also at its easiest during the first nine weeks of the season. So, with his learning curve comes plenty of winnable games. And the ball-hawking Derwin James returns, while corner Chris Harris also signed with the team. You can expect more takeaways from LA in 2020.
On the other side, Taylor won’t take shots downfield as he plays a more conservative game. But he’s fantastic at managing the game and keeping the ball in his team’s hands. He loves the quick passes, so players like Henry, Ekeler, and Allen fit his style.
If Taylor’s playing most of the games this season, don’t expect the 20-interception outing you saw from Rivers in 2019. It will also cause the Chargers to gain ground in the turnover battle and that will convert to wins.
Ironic, but evaluating new quarterbacks with better attributes that are better fits for today’s game show that they will help the Chargers better than the Hall of Famer who left for Indiana this past off-season. Expect the Chargers to finish at least .500 in one possession games in 2020, and expect a lot of them, just like in 2019.
In 2019, the Chargers were a good team who finished the season with a poor record. Okay, so they had a quarterback who loved taking risks, was prone to sacks, and interceptions. This season, he’s gone and the new blood takes over.
It’s fantastic, as the team has kept its star-studded core on both offense and defense while letting the senior in Rivers walk. The pass rush and passing defense is also as good as ever. Look for the defense to once again finish in the top 10 while the offense has a chance to complete that feat.
Since Taylor and Herbert are more mobile than Rivers, they will stretch the play and give their receivers better chances to get open. It’s something Rivers couldn’t do, and it cost the Chargers a lot of one-possession games in 2019.
What are your thoughts on the Chargers? Let us know in the comments.