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The Chargers Need to Prove They Have Changed on Saturday

Something feels different about this year’s Chargers team, but we can’t quite go all in on them yet.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Los Angeles Chargers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a bit of a cliche, but this really does feel like a completely different Chargers team to the one we’ve seen the last three years. After a collapse in 2014 to miss the playoffs despite a 5-1 start, the Chargers combined for just nine wins in 2015 and 2016, becoming experts at losing games they had absolutely no business losing. That’s not exactly a new trend (hi, Marlon McCree!), but it felt like 2016 was a tipping point, as the Bolts blew games that they had a 1-in-30-million chance to blow, en route to a dismal 5-11 season. Mike McCoy was out, and in came Anthony Lynn, promising change.

The Chargers preceded to go 0-4, dropping even more games due to mind-numbing incompetence. So much for change. Th season looked over before October had even properly begun - and, to steal a quote from Jim Mora:

But after going 0-4, something weird happened. The Chargers started winning.

It wasn’t an entirely smooth process - their first win was over the New York Giants in a game of ‘which team is slightly less bad’, and they dropped a game in true Chargers fashion to the Jaguars in OT, but since the 0-4 start, the Chargers are on a 7-2 run, with the only losses coming against two teams destined for the Playoffs come January.

Turning disaster into a positive situation isn’t exactly a trait of recent Chargers teams. They’re far more adept at turning positive situations into disaster. This year, however, it’s a different story.

Not only are the Chargers winning, but they’re winning big. After losing to the Jaguars, they needed to essentially win out if they wanted to have a realistic shot at making the postseason. They responded by hanging up 54 points on the Bills, before going to Dallas on Thanksgiving. In the biggest game of the regular season, they dominated. The score at HT was only 3-0 despite complete dominance, which is a risky position to be in. The Chargers teams of ‘15 and ‘16 would have come out flat after HT and dropped the game. The Chargers team of 2017 continued to dominate, winning 28-6 and putting the rest of the NFL on notice.

A trap game avoided against the Browns followed by another dominant win over the Redskins brings us to this week. Against all the odds, the Chargers are above .500 - and they deserve to be. They’re playing like one of the best teams in the NFL right now. Philip Rivers is on fire. Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry are unguardable. As for the defense? I’m not sure there’s a better one in the NFL right now. Words can’t describe how much I love this picture:

They say pictures speak 1,000 words. This picture says just five.

“The Chargers are for real.”

Which brings us to the point of this article. In the last nine games, the Chargers have exploded to a 7-2 record, while the Chiefs have imploded, going 2-7. They’ve lost to some bad football teams. On the face of it, all the evidence points towards another convincing Chargers victory en route to an AFC West crown and a playoff berth. But this is the Chargers, and it’s not that simple. Not yet, anyway.

This week, the Chargers head to the loudest stadium in the NFL on a Saturday Night for a game that will essentially decide the division. It doesn’t get much bigger than this. This is the game that tells us who the Chargers really are.

Have they changed? Have they broken the “curse”? I believe in Anthony Lynn and Gus Bradley as coaches, and I believe in the talent of this team. That doesn’t mean this game is an automatic win. Remember Week 17 of the 2014 season. The Chargers had just completed a miraculous comeback against the San Francisco 49ers, coming back from 21-0 to clinch the game in OT. All they had to do to make the playoffs was to beat the Kansas City Chiefs - who were led by Chase Daniel, as Alex Smith was sidelined with a ruptured spleen.

The Chargers lost 19-7.

I know this is a different team to 2014, but the problem is that it’s not a different team. This is still the Chargers. They’re a far more talented Chargers team, but that guarantees nothing.

On paper, this should be a win for the Chargers, who are simply a better team than the Kansas City Chiefs. That doesn’t mean Chargers fans should see them as the favorites in this game. If we’ve learned anything from history, it’s that this franchise doesn’t work like that. There’s a real chance the Chargers blow this game on Saturday, just like the Chargers we all know and hate. The Chargers could also be legitimate Superbowl contenders this year. Which scenario is more likely? More to the point, who exactly are the 2017 Los Angeles Chargers? It might be Week 14, but we still don’t know.

We’ll find out this Saturday.