The Los Angeles Chargers are probably the biggest threat in the AFC West to knock off the Kansas City Chiefs. No, the Chargers didn’t play well in 2020, which culminated with former head coach Anthony Lynn seeing the door.
But if you’re one who embraces the high-risk, high-reward bet, the Chargers are a fair bet. Sure, they must contend with the Chiefs, who pose as a much safer bet.
However, the Chargers have a lot going for them. For one, they already boast a powerful offense, where then-rookie quarterback Justin Herbert put together the best rookie season in NFL history. At least statistically.
But they also have a new, young coach in Brandon Staley. Concerns rest over on defense, which gave up multiple three-touchdown leads throughout 2020. Paired with a tough schedule, the Chargers still have their work cut out for them.
New Coach in Town
Brandon Staley, a 38-year-old head coach who previously served as defensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams, can follow the steps of his old boss, Sean McVay.
Sure, Staley’s a defensive-minded coach, but in 2021, it may help the Chargers fix their defensive woes. Something ownership banked on, since the 2020 Chargers blew huge leads left and right.
Even with Staley’s status as a defensive coach, it’s still tempting to think that he and Justin Herbert can become the NFL’s next great head coach slash quarterback combo. Especially with Herbert’s talent.
Staley’s also walking into a decent situation. Into a team that finished 7-9 in 2020, and went 4-0 to finish the season. Even more enticing.
So if you’re looking to place a futures bet on the Chargers, you can assure yourself that the hiring of the defensive-minded Staley foreshadows good things to come for the team playing in the City of Angels.
While Herbert and the offense clicked in 2020, scoring an average of 24.7 points per game, the defense struggled. Now, they have a head coach capable of fixing the porous defense.
And speaking of Herbert, let’s see just how he and the Chargers offense will evolve in Year 2.
The Legend of Justin Herbert
We all thought the same. Whether we were looking to bet on player props, futures, whatever. We all thought the same.
Justin Herbert will struggle in Year 1 and it’s smart to keep him on the bench while Tyrod Taylor, the grizzled journeyman, keeps the seat warm. Then a team doctor punctures Taylor’s lung minutes before kickoff while the latter received an injection.
Taylor takes off for the hospital, and Herbert steps in minutes before kickoff in Week Two. Against the Kansas City Chiefs, of all teams.
The rest is history.
Herbert capped off what is statistically the greatest rookie season of all-time, despite his 6-9 record as a starter (Taylor went 1-0). And after a mediocre showing for the Tyrod Taylor-led offense in Week 1, Herbert went pedal to the metal. Setting rookie record after rookie record.
What does he have for an encore presentation?
Expect. Great. Things.
Even if you don’t like the Los Angeles Chargers in 2021 for a futures bet, you have to like Herbert if you bet player props or play fantasy football. The guy is lights out.
Besides, he also has a solid offense full of skill players stacked around him. Many of whom should return in 2021.
Among those players, they include Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Joe Reed, and if they bring him back, Hunter Henry.
One reason Herbert performed so well was because of the talent surrounding him on offense. But now that Herbert has a year of experience under his belt, expect him to make The Leap.
Patrick Mahomes-Like MVP Leap?
You can’t compare anyone to Mahomes, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he does. And if it happens, it also means the Chargers dethroned, or came close to dethroning, the Chiefs.
Since the Chargers play alongside the Chiefs in the AFC West, expect them to have longer odds in the futures column to win the AFC West. But with Herbert and a hot offense that will grow hotter, if you’re cool with a bit of risk, it may pay off with a Chargers bet.
Not saying that it will. The Chiefs are still the Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes is still Patrick Mahomes. And the more conservative bettor would always go with the Chiefs. But if you’re looking to bet on an upset, the Chargers aren’t a half-bad choice.
And if Justin Herbert wasn’t in the saddle in Los Angeles, it’d be a different story.
Uncertainty on Defense
The Chargers still face defensive uncertainty. Even with Staley coming in as the new man in charge. The problem is that this is the same defense that blew too many double-digit leads.
It happened in Week 2 against the Kansas City Chiefs. And again in Week 4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Chargers let 4 double-digit leads slip away. Plus, we can’t forget about the 45-0 debacle in Week 13 that practically sealed former head coach Anthony Lynn’s fate.
After allowing 426 points, the Chargers defense was nothing short of terrible.
Now to their defense, injuries hit them hard. They lost Casey Hayward, Melvin Ingram, Derwin James, Drue Tranquill, and Kyzir White on defense.
If the Chargers get their core defensive players back for 2021, it may be a different story.
However, some major contributors will become unrestricted free agents. And if they sign elsewhere, it only bodes a few more holes that the team must fill. Ingram is one of those players. So are the reliable Denzel Perryman, and Nick Vigil.
The Chargers, with a new coaching staff, will also see changes to the defensive system. And changes can come to the scheme itself, with the Chargers having run a 4-3 defense. Staley, however, is a 3-4 guy, and that alone could mean a learning curve if he brings the 3-4 to the Chargers.
Special Teams Nightmares
Defense isn’t the only concern for the Chargers that you must pay attention to if you’re looking to bet on them as opposed to the Chiefs (or Denver or Vegas) in the NFL futures column.
Their special teams were abysmal in 2020.
And it started with kicker, Michael Badgley.
Just how bad was Badgley?
He converted just 8 of 19 field goal attempts beyond 40 yards. His total sat at 24 makes and 9 misses, good for just a 72.73 conversion percentage. A restricted free agent, the Chargers must upgrade over Badgley.
But it didn’t stop there.
Punter Ty Long also routinely handed opponents excellent field position.
Long had 3 punts blocked in 2020. Of his 57 punts, 37 went for returns and just 12 landed inside the 20. While he had a respectable 46.8 average, his net average sat at just 34.1.
With problems on defense, the Chargers must upgrade on both special teams positions. Missed kicks from long range from Badgley gave opposing offenses short fields. A horrific net average, the worst in football per The Football Database,
Statistically, Long was the worst or among the worst in football. Ranking between 30 and 32 in most categories.
We often underestimate how important special teams are in football. But as you can see from above, horrific play on special teams cost the Chargers a lot. And if it happens again in 2021, their high-risk bet status just got higher.
A Tough Schedule
The Chargers also face a tough schedule, along with their divisional rivals.
But this is also a bit of a two-way street.
We already know the Chiefs are a chore to deal with, and the Chargers get to deal with them twice in 2021. But they also get to face the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Baltimore Ravens. The AFC North’s three-headed monster.
Also, don’t count out the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East. The Cowboys now have a year of experience under head coach Mike McCarthy. And if Dak Prescott comes back and picks up where he left off, the Cowboys are still among the NFL’s biggest threats.
Plus, the Washington Football Team is no joke. We already know how good the WFT’s defense is. But if they get a reliable quarterback under center, they just became Super Bowl contenders.
The good news for the Chargers, especially given their status as one of the NFL’s fastest up-and-coming teams, is the rest of the schedule.
They’ll face the Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants, and Philadelphia Eagles. Plus, they have a date with the Denver Broncos twice in 2021. And the Chargers have the talent to finish 6-0 against these teams.
The jury’s out on the Las Vegas Raiders and the New England Patriots. But the Raiders showed that they too are ascending and remain ahead of the Chargers in overall talent and stability. Though the Chargers are closing that gap.
As for the Patriots. If you give Bill Belichick a better quarterback, a halfway decent quarterback, and half his defense back that missed the 2020 season, he’ll beat you. Not to mention he already beat Justin Herbert and the Chargers 45-0.
The Los Angeles Chargers are among the NFL’s fastest rising franchises. And with Justin Herbert leading the charge, their offense will score at an even faster rate in 2021. Also, they now have a defensive-minded coach to fix their woes on defense.
Along with a blueprint thanks to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they may also know how to stop their rival, Patrick Mahomes.
But the defense must rebuild with a possible new system. Plus their special teams woes could cost this team if they don’t solve them. Last year, poor play on special teams hindered.
What are your thoughts on the Chargers? Are they worth making the futures bet on, or do the Chiefs still reign supreme in the AFC West?
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