- Win Over/Under: 9.5 (-120/+100)
- Make AFC Playoffs: -160 (62%)
- Win AFC West: +125 (44%)
- Win AFC Championship: +800 (11%)
- Win Super Bowl: +1600 (6%)
The Action Network’s Projected Wins: 9.2 (10th)
Philip Rivers has had a top-12 defense in points allowed six times in his career as a starter, and the Chargers have won 10.8 games on average in such seasons.
In the six seasons when Rivers didn’t have a top-12 defense, the Chargers won only 6.8 games on average.
The Chargers were third in points allowed last season, and unless season-ending injuries are contagious and we just don’t know it, they should be firmly within the top 12 again.
That average of 10.8 wins would be even higher if not for the Chargers’ ability to find shockingly creative ways to lose games.
They spent the first four weeks of 2017 employing Younghoe Koo, whose qualifications as an NFL kicker were apparently deceiving. Koo had a game-tying field goal blocked in Week 1, and then he whiffed on a game-winning attempt the following week.
Then there was Week 4 against the Eagles, when the Chargers lost at home after pulling within two points with 6:44 remaining, only to have their vaunted defense give up a soul-crushing, clock-bleeding drive (although, to be fair, they would have probably missed the game-winning field goal anyway).
And, finally, there was Week 10, when the Chargers had a first-and-10 with 1:24 left against the Jaguars but somehow let Blake Bortles “lead” a game-tying field-goal drive in which he gained 19 yards on five pass attempts. The Chargers then gave up a game-winning field goal in overtime even though Bortles gained only 17 yards on another five pass attempts in the period.
The kicker on both of the Jaguars’ field goals? Josh Lambo, the Chargers’ 2016 kicker, whom they let go for Koo.
Ultimately, the Chargers started 0-4 but still managed a 9-7 finish.
They went 3-5 in one-score games, and their win total total according to Pythagorean expectation was 10.4, which are both predictors of positive regression in the win column.
That improvement will likely be due to what looks like another top-flight defense.
Despite season-ending injuries to cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Jaylen Watkins, the Chargers still boast three corners ranked in Pro Football Focus’ top 25 last year: Casey Hayward (No. 3), Desmond King (No. 5) and Trevor Williams (No. 23).
The Chargers were also one of only three teams to have two players compile double-digit sacks, Joey Bosa (12.5) and Melvin Ingram (10.5).
There are reasons for concern, though. After the Chargers finished only 20-for-30 on field-goal attempts and 37-for-42 on extra-point attempts, they went out and signed reliable veteran Caleb Sturgis, who has made 81% of his career field-goal attempts and 97% of his career extra-point attempts.
So, of course, the Chargers are seriously considering giving the kicking job to … Roberto Aguayo.
Aguayo was last seen without an NFL roster spot in 2017 after connecting on only 71% of his field-goal attempts and 94% of his extra-point attempts for the Buccaneers as a rookie in 2016.
Apparently a strong preseason has Aguayo “on his way to winning the Chargers’ kicking job,” according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Because the Lou Groza Award-winning, second-round draft pick Aguayo has never tricked a franchise into employing him by excelling in every situation except kicking in a real-life NFL regular-season game.
That said, teams with borderline Hall of Fame quarterbacks that can rush the passer and cover on defense generally win a lot of games.
Even with PFF’s 24th-ranked offensive line last season — its same ranking heading into this season — Rivers led the league in sack rate (3.0%), going down only 18 times all season while finishing No. 3 in yards per game (282.9) and No. 5 in yards per attempt (7.9).
Keenan Allen gets open whenever he wants, and he trails only Antonio Brown with his 7.0 receptions per game since 2015.
Rivers averaged over 9.0 yards per attempt when throwing to Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin last season and is generally fine throwing to any receiver with a pulse, which is something to keep in mind when Allen suffers his inevitable season-ending injury.
Losing tight end Hunter Henry was a blow, especially since the ghost of Antonio Gates is no longer in Los Angeles.
But 2017 first-round wideout Mike Williams has a tight end’s size (6-foot-4), athleticism (32nd-percentile 40-yard dash and 24th-percentile Burst Score according to PlayerProfiler) and statistical profile (8.6 yards per catch as a rookie), so he should at the very least be able to contribute in the red zone.
Melvin Gordon was No. 2 and No. 7 among running backs in broken tackles rushing and receiving, per PFF. Meanwhile, Austin Ekeler looked like Danny Woodhead reincarnated, ripping off 5.5 yards per carry and 10.3 yards per catch as a rookie.
The schedule features enough winnable games that the Chargers could continue their annual tradition of getting swept by Andy Reid and still finish 11-5 or 12-4.
I’m betting all of that is enough to get the Chargers to 10 wins — approximately one win per fan who attends their home games. – Chris Raybon
The Bet: Over 9.5 Wins
Los Angeles Chargers 2018 Schedule
- Games Favored: 10
- Avg. Spread: -2.2
- Strength of Schedule: 3rd (1 = Easiest, 32 = Hardest)
Survivor Pool 101
- Use the Chargers: Week 12 vs. ARI
- Use Chargers’ opponents: Week 13 @ PIT
Fantasy Football Outlook
- Top Pick: RB Melvin Gordon, WR Keenan Allen
- Sleeper: WR Tyrell Williams
- Potential Bust: WR Mike Williams
Best of “I’ll Take That Bet” on ESPN+
“We had them pegged early in our power ratings as the best team in the division and have been very aggressive on them. We moved them from 30-1 to 25-1 in the Super Bowl market and took money on them there, so we’re now at 16-1 and in a pretty good position.”
– Westgate bookmaker Jeff Sherman to The Action Network’s Michael Leboff
Philip Rivers Over/Under 26.5 Passing TDs? (-125/-105)
Rivers has failed to throw for 27+ touchdowns only once over the past 10 seasons. That is not to say that I feel this is a 90% chance of being a winner, but I would have this prop a full touchdown higher.
There is no doubt that losing Gates to old age and Henry to a torn ACL will hurt Rivers in the red zone. But look for him to lean on Allen and the Williamses to help clear the over on this prop. – Sean Koerner
The Bet: Over 26.5 Touchdowns
Melvin Gordon Is a Good DFS Play in Non-Empty Stadiums
Gordon hasn’t had the most efficient start to his career, but he’s one of the league’s true three-down backs and is entering 2018 with arguably the best offensive line of his career.
The Chargers’ lack of home attendance has been well documented, and it has seemingly impacted Gordon’s production: According to the FantasyLabs NFL Trends tool, Gordon has surpassed his salary-based expectations in just seven of 21 home games (33%) compared to 13 of 22 road games (59%). – Ian Hartitz
More on the 2018 Los Angeles Chargers
- What is the Fantasy Impact of Hunter Henry’s Torn ACL?
- Casey Hayward: Does He Make the Chargers Defense the Scariest Matchup in Fantasy?