The Los Angeles Chargers enter what could be a critical week three clash against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. Anthony Lynn’s men have already tasted defeat this campaign, losing their opening game against the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs.
They managed to bounce back, convincingly beating a poor Buffalo Bills team, but the spectre of last term’s 0-4 start lingers. Both the Chiefs and division rival Denver Broncos have started their season 2-0. The margin for error is thin even at this early stage.
The Rams could condemn Philip Rivers and company to 1-2, potentially putting them two games back within the AFC West. A match-up against an NFC powerhouse is not the game many would pick in a bid to get back to winning ways. A win could not only get them back in the hunt in their division, but also make a statement regarding their Super Bowl credentials, knocking off one of the favourites for the Lombardi trophy.
In 2017 kicker woes and a string of close losses proved too much for Lynn’s men to overcome. Their late season form showed what the unit can be – setting the expectations high for 2018.
Much like back then, the early season has been dominated with headlines of injuries to key players thinning out the roster. Tight end Hunter Henry, who was poised for a big year after Antonio Gates retired (and has since returned due to the Henry injury), and cornerback Jason Verrett were lost for the season before a competitive snap was taken. A further blow was dealt when star pass rusher Joey Bosa cropped up on the injury report before their opening game. The third-year pro is yet to take the field as a result.
Every squad must overcome early season knocks: Aaron Rodgers is battling a knee injury in Green Bay and the Jacksonville Jaguars knocked off the New England Patriots minus their sledgehammer running back Leonard Fournette. Yet the medical department of the Chargers consistently seems to be the busiest, and with the most high-profile occupants.
A 10-6 record may not be enough to earn a Wildcard spot in January. While that time seems lightyears away now, Chargers fans and players will know how the opening weeks can define what happens in the closing ones. Following their awful start the Chargers rallied to finish the season strong, ending with a 9-7 record – enough to place them second in the AFC West.
Between 1990 and 2013 teams starting 1-2 had a 25% chance of reaching the postseason per Pro Football Reference. That percentage more than doubled to 53% when a franchise opened their season with a 2-1 record. While not impossible for a team as talented as the Chargers to produce a late surge similar to last campaign, they will not want another uphill battle.
Lynn’s position of Head Coach, for the time being, is secure. Keenan Allen has remained healthy and they are getting the best version of Melvin Gordon, who has put his troubled rookie campaign far behind him. The defense is one of the best in the league and they still boast an elite signal caller in Rivers.
However, fortunes can change drastically. Lynn proved he and his staff could coach their team out of a hole. Their next development would be not fashioning it in the first instance.
It has been five years since the Bolts competed in the playoffs and over a decade since they went to an AFC Championship game. Rivers’ Super Bowl may never be as open as it is now.
If Lynn fails to capitalise on his star QB and loaded defense, he could pay the ultimate price, Chargers brass will be in no mood to waste the roster they have assembled. Another year of early struggles will not be tolerated.
Photo credit : Los Angeles Chargers