Los Angeles Chargers emerging as legitimate Super Bowl contenders

Los Angeles Chargers

After years of flashing talent and upside, the Los Angeles Chargers have finally assembled a Super Bowl contender. The Chargers have raced out to a 6-2 record thanks to a well-rounded roster and quarterback Philip Rivers playing at  an MVP-level.

The Los Angeles Chargers have been arguably the most tortured franchise in the NFL over the last two decades. Injuries, playoff failures, and self-inflicted mistakes have piled up as the Chargers have seen talented teams fall wayside far too often.

2017 was supposed to be different as the Chargers were the popular choice to breakout. They were close, finishing 9-7, but missed field goals early in the year dug them too deep of a hole to make the playoffs.

It turns out that pundits were a year too early, but had correctly identified the Chargers as a sleeper Super Bowl contender. Now 6-2 after their 25-17 win in Seattle, the Chargers are shedding the demons that have plagued them so often. They withstood a late surge from Seattle that included Russell Wilson having an untimed down in the red zone with the chance to tie the game.

Early-season bumps in a talented secondary have evened out in recent weeks. Some of that is due to facing limited offenses in San Francisco, Oakland, Cleveland, and Tennessee. But regression back to becoming a higher-caliber defense was predictable considering the swap of Tre Boston for Derwin James was the only personnel difference from an elite unit last year.

Slot cornerback Desmond King played a key role in their victory, notching a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown. King dropped into an underneath zone, but Wilson read man coverage. The ball went directly to King as he drifted to fill the curl passing lane.

The Seahawks, though not the juggernaut they were a few years ago, offered a good litmus test for the Chargers. They’ve been on fire as their offensive line has solidified in the last two months, and their defense has gotten the most out of a young supporting cast. Still, it was the Chargers’ balance and ability to win with a variety of strategies that stood out.

It wasn’t an efficient day for Rivers and the passing game, which is unusual for the deeply-talented attack. Rivers only completed 13 passes, but he was again tremendous with his knack for producing chunk plays. Keenan Allen amassed 124 yards, with nearly half coming on a busted coverage, and dominated the middle of the field again.

The contributions from Mike and Tyrell Williams is worth focusing on from this game. Mike Williams’ 30-yard touchdown highlighted his athleticism and the challenge of containing him without help. His ability to break a tackle after winning at the catch point has transferred directly from his Clemson days.

A play with an expected return of about 15 yards quickly turned into 30 and six points. Having playmakers who can produce those opportunities is something that pays off in critical moments in the playoffs.

Tyrell Williams’ 12-yard score was a textbook example of why having an MVP-caliber quarterback and unique receivers is so valuable. Rivers put the ball in a tremendous spot. The defender had no chance to slow Williams’ momentum, and could only hope for an error on Williams’ part.

Williams finished what was a difficult catch process. A free-agent to-be after the year, he’s poised to be a top receiver on the market and will cash in because of his catch radius and reliability.

What really kept the Chargers moving throughout the day was the running game. Their revamped offensive line continues to make a difference for running back Melvin Gordon, who scurried for his third 100-yard game in four weeks. He already has seven touchdowns on the year and continues to provide his own chunk plays to spark drives.

Like at receiver, the depth and versatility of the offense gives Rivers more options than most of his peers. Backup tailback Austin Ekeler is one of the best third-down playmakers in the league. He wasn’t as crucial this week, but makes the most out of his touches in limited snaps.

Ekeler’s essentially another receiver for Rivers. His quick burst allows easy separation. His 572 yards from scrimmage has already surpassed his entire 2017 total despite playing in half the games so far. When called upon, his efficiency is through the roof.

All of this has happened with the team’s best defender being out, too. Joey Bosa continues to be on the mend with his foot injury, calling it “week-to-week” to Ricky Henne of Chargers.com.

Currently sitting in the fifth-seed of the AFC playoff picture, the only better team than them is the Kansas City Chiefs, and that’s because the Chiefs beat them earlier this year. They’re set for a rematch on Dec. 13.

The Chargers appear surprisingly safe for their playoff push. It’s extremely unlikely Miami or Baltimore will finish with a better record, not only because they’re both decidedly worse, but the Chargers have a favorable remaining schedule.

Oakland, Denver, and Arizona loom as their next three opponents. They should comfortably win each of those games and reach 9-2. Then they play potential playoff foes Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Kansas City before finishing against Baltimore and Denver.

It’s not unreasonable they could finish 11-5 or better and still be a Wild Card team due to the Chiefs’ absurd offense.

Rivers continues to be a on a tear, completing 67 percent of his passes for 2,236 yards, 19 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He’s on pace for 4,590 yards and 39 touchdowns. The film has been as jaw-dropping as his numbers, and he must start getting MVP attention as he continues to shred defenses.

There’s still almost half the season to go, but it’s time for the league and country to recognize that this Chargers team has the star power and depth needed to make a Super Bowl run. They’ve continued to show growth as the season progresses and have all of the talent needed to peak at the right time.

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