The 2020 season will be remembered as a transition year for the Chargers franchise, and it was also a season that showed a lot of promise for the future. They completed their first season in the state-of-the-art SoFi Stadium and they did it without Philip Rivers as the team’s quarterback for the first time since 2005. The Chargers vastly underperformed based on their talent level once again, which resulted in the franchise firing Anthony Lynn after they missed the playoffs (-165) for the second straight season with a 7-9 record (9-7 ATS). The future's still looking bright after they hit the lottery with Justin Herbert, who took home Rookie of the Year honors (+1600) after being the third quarterback drafted last season. It took a bit of luck/misfortune for Herbert to even get into the lineup after Tyrod Taylor had his lung accidentally punctured with a pain-killer injection before their Week 2 game.
The Chargers allowed the 10th-most points per game (26.6) and they scored the 15th-fewest points per game, which resulted in a 9-7 mark toward overs. Los Angeles started the season 1-7 in one-score games before ripping off a 4-0 stretch in those same scenarios to end the season. The Chargers finished 1-1 in games decided by three scores or more and they had the 13th-worst point differential (-42) in the league.
Los Angeles’ 2021 win total (9.5) climbed by 2.5 victories after they fired Lynn this winter and with Herbert expected to keep improving. The Chargers pushed on their 2020 win total by winning four straight games to get to seven victories. Entering this season, I have the Chargers power rated as the 14th-best team in the NFL (+3000 to win Super Bowl LVI), as the seventh-best team in the AFC (+1600 to win the conference), and as the second-best team in the AFC West (+450).
Spreads are first-look lines from the SuperBook, which were released in early June.
|1||@Washington Football Team||-1.5||1|
|3||@Kansas City Chiefs||+7.5||1|
|4||Las Vegas Raiders||-4||8:15 (Mon)|
|8||New England Patriots||-2.5||4:05|
|14||New York Giants||-6||4:05|
|15||Kansas City Chiefs||+6.5||8:20 (Thurs)|
|18||@Las Vegas Raiders||+1.5||4:25|
Los Angeles has a front-loaded schedule so they’ll be in good shape for a playoff push if they’re around .500 through the first 12 weeks of the season. The Chargers have matchups against the Bengals, Giants, Texans, and Raiders in the final six weeks of the season sandwiched around matchups with the Chiefs and Broncos. The Chargers have just one game against an opponent coming off a bye when they take on the Broncos in Week 12.
The Chargers will face the 14th-toughest schedule this season based on 2021 win totals (per Sharp Football), and they’ll be tested right out of the gates with six of their first seven games coming against teams lined at 8+ wins. In fact, nine of their first 11 games are against teams that are lined at 8+ wins so they’ll need to survive through Week 12 before they make a playoff push late. It’s particularly tough in Weeks 3-6 when they’ll take on the Chiefs, Browns, and Ravens, who are each lined at 10.5 wins or better.
Key Off-season Moves
|Chase Daniel (QB)||Rashawn Slater (OT)||Tyrod Taylor (QB, Hou)|
|Jared Cook (TE)||Asante Samuel (CB)||Hunter Henry (TE, NE)|
|Matt Feiler (OT)||Josh Palmer (WR)||Sam Tevi (OT, Ind)|
|Corey Linsley (C)||Tre’ McKitty (TE)||Trai Turner (OG, Pit)|
|Oday Aboushi (OG)||Chris Rumph (DE)||Forrest Lamp (OG)|
|Christian Covington (DT)||Dan Feeny (C, NYJ)|
|Mike Pouncey (C, retired)|
|Melvin Ingram (DE)|
|Denzel Perryman (LB, Car)|
|Nick Vigil (LB, Min)|
|Casey Hayward (CB, LV)|
|Rayshawn Jenkins (S, Jax)|
|Isaac Rochell (DT, Ind)|
2021 Season Odds
Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook
|Season Win Total (O/U)||9.5 (+115/-135)|
Season Prop Movement
Win Total: 9 (+103) in late March to 9.5 (+115)
Super Bowl: +2800 in early February to +3000
Reasons to Bet Over the Season Win Total
New HC Brandon Staley figures to be a major upgrade over Anthony Lynn, who continually gave away victories with poor in-game decisions during his tenure with the Chargers. The Chargers started last season 1-7 in one-score games before they won their final four one-score contests, which is just another sign that the reigning Rookie of the Year, Justin Herbert, could be a special player at the position. Herbert broke NFL rookie records for passing yards (4336), passing TDs (31), and completions (396) in just 15 games. The Chargers are still facing an uphill battle to host home playoff games since they’re in the same division as the best team in the NFL, but they’ve certainly narrowed the gap with the Chiefs this off-season.
The Chargers went into the NFL Draft looking to address needs along their offensive line, at cornerback, and at wide receiver and they were able to fill all three positions with their first three picks. What’s better is that they were able to land arguably the three best players on the board at the time of their picks and they didn’t have to trade away picks to land OT Rashawn Slater at No. 13, CB Asante Samuel at No. 47, and TWR Josh Palmer at No. 77. GM Tom Telesco set out this off-season to improve Herbert’s bad offensive line from 2020, and he did a great job reshaping the unit this off-season by drafting Slater and signing C Corey Linsley and OG Matt Feiler. The Chargers could have one of the league’s more dynamic offenses with an improved O-line with playmakers Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, and Mike Williams still in the fold.
Reasons to Bet Under the Season Win Total
Staley should be an upgrade over Lynn almost right away (he didn’t exactly set a high bar), but immediate success is far from guaranteed for the 38-year-old coach. He’s never previously served as a head coach at any level, and he only started coaching in the NFL as a linebackers coach under Vic Fangio in 2017. Staley is sure to have some stumbles in his first go-round as a head coach but he’s certainly well regarded with how he turned the Rams into the top defense in the league last season. Staley certainly has some intriguing players at his disposal in recent first-round picks in DE Joey Bosa, S Derwin James, and LB Kenneth Murray but the play of the Chargers’ defense the last few seasons hasn’t matched up with their talent level.
Another big question is if Staley’s OC, Joe Lombardi, has learned from his mistakes as Detroit’s offensive coordinator in 2014-15. He got the job with the Lions before he was ready for it, and we’ll see what he’s learned since then working under Sean Payton in New Orleans. Lombardi will look to keep Herbert and the entire offense moving in the right direction after Herbert’s stunningly strong rookie season. Herbert will be looking to avoid a sophomore slump under Lombardi after the rest of the league got an off-season to come up with ways to slow down the big-armed quarterback.
Notable Player Props
Justin Herbert: passing yards (4450.5), passing TDs (28.5), MVP (+2000)
Fantasy Points Projection: passing yards (4125), passing TDs (28)
Best-Case Scenario: Herbert’s rookie performance is no fluke as he improves in his sophomore season after setting a rookie record for passing TDs (31) and falling just 38 yards short of Andrew Luck’s rookie record of 4374 passing yards.
Worst-Case-Scenario: Herbert runs into some growing pains playing in Joe Lombardi’s new offense, and NFL defenses make some adjustments and start to catch up to him a bit in his second season.
Austin Ekeler: rushing yards (825.5), rushing + receiving yards (1349.5), rushing TDs (6), OPOY (+3300)
Fantasy Points Projection: rushing yards (800), rushing + receiving yards (1395), rushing TDs (3.5)
Best-Case Scenario: Ekeler keeps up his career-high 17.0 touches per game from 2020 but this season he’s able to stay on the field after missing six contests to a nasty hamstring injury.
Worst-Case-Scenario: New OC Joe Lombardi looks to preserve Ekeler for all 17 games by liberally mixing in Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley, and Larry Rountree into this backfield.
Keenan Allen: receiving yards (1025.5), receptions (98.5), receiving TDs (6.5)
Fantasy Points Projection: receiving yards (1055), receptions (97)
Best-Case Scenario: Allen remains one of the most consistent high-end receivers by making it five straight seasons with 97+ catches, and he grows his average of 100.8 catches per season from 2017-20.
Worst-Case-Scenario: Allen’s production falls off a bit with Justin Herbert taking a small step back off of his unexpectedly great rookie season and with Mike Williams asserting himself more in the offense.
Mike Williams: receiving yards (900.5), receiving TDs (5.5)
Fantasy Points Projection: receiving yards (780), receiving TDs (5)
Best-Case Scenario: Williams excels as the X receiver In Joe Lombardi’s New Orleans’s style offense, and he becomes the next talented first-round pick to break out in the fifth and final year of his rookie contract like DeVante Parker (2019) and Corey Davis (2020) before him.
Worst-Case-Scenario: Williams falls flat in his contract season as he continues to struggle to get on the same page with Justin Herbert after averaging a meager 8.9 YPT in 2020.
Los Angeles Chargers under 9.5 wins (-130, BetMGM) — I love the direction that the Chargers are heading in coming into the 2021 season after what I saw from Justin Herbert during his rookie season. I also love that they dumped Anthony Lynn for a young, forward-thinking head coach in Brandon Staley and I love their off-season upgrades along their offensive line. What I don’t love is their inflated win total heading into this season. Unless Herbert is the next Dan Marino (hey, he just might be), I’m expecting him to take a small back from his phenomenal rookie season and he did slow down some in the final six games of last season. I also know the 38-year-old Staley is going to be a massive upgrade over Lynn in the long term, but he could face a learning curve in his first season after he was defensive coordinator at Division III John Carroll just five years ago. I also have concerns with Joe Lombardi, who flopped in his first OC gig with the Lions in 2014-15, and this defense still has too many holes to be one of the league’s better units. I think the Chargers will fall short of their lofty expectations this season, but I’ll be ready to bet the bounce-back next season when this roster should be much more ready to compete with the Chiefs at the top of the division.
Austin Ekeler under 6 rushing TDs (-130, DraftKings) — Ekeler has never topped three rushing TDs in each of his first four seasons so oddsmakers are projecting him to double up his previous career-best marks set in 2018 and 2019. Of course, he had to contend with Melvin Gordon in the Chargers’ backfield in his first three seasons and he played in just 10 games last season when he became the primary option in Los Angeles. The Chargers still have bigger backs in Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree who could own the goal-line work in this backfield in 2021, but I ultimately couldn’t get to this bet because Joe Lombardi and Brandon Staley may give Ekeler more goal-line opportunities than Anthony Lynn ever did.