I’d originally planned to give my thoughts on the season right after Week 17, but an incessant amount of University work meant that I haven’t had the time to do so until now. That actually works out better, considering the further removed we get from the season, the easier it is to evaluate it logically rather than emotionally. (Also, I was extremely hungover the day after the game, so putting words together in a coherent order would have been a major challenge).
In the week or two after the regular season had ended, I’ll admit to having had a few dreams where the Chargers were in the Playoffs, meaning I’d wake up and start the day feeling sad. Once, I actually dreamt that they’d lost to the Chiefs in the Playoffs, meaning I was first sad that the season was over, only to wake up and be sad that the season was over. That’s a double dosage of sadness - you usually need to wait until the Chargers line up for a game-winning field goal to experience that.
To some extent, I still am looking back on the season with a twinge of wistfulness - what if the Chargers had made it to the postseason dance? How far could they have gone? Would they have beaten the Titans or Chiefs? What about the Jaguars? Would we have had an AFC Championship between the Patriots and the Chargers instead?
There’s no way of knowing, but it’s fun (and maddening in equal measure) to dream about an alternate reality. It’s a lot more fun than the last two years, of just counting down the days until the season was over. And, rather than being filled with disappointment over the way the season ended, I’m already looking forward to the 2018 season.
This is the best Chargers team for a long time. It’s unquestionably a better team than the 2013 Chargers, who sneaked into the playoffs through the backdoor and even won a playoff game. That team had Derek Cox, Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall starting at CB. The 2018 Chargers are looking at Jason Verrett being the #4 CB on the depth chart.
If we take a look at the Chargers 2017 schedule:
Week 1: Lost by 3 to the Denver Broncos. Bad Special Teams cost the Chargers a shot at taking this game to OT, but they were awful in the first 3 quarters and the Broncos deserved their win. Still, Week 1 is always rocky, so we’ll give them a pass.
Week 2: Kicking loss. No other way to put it. Younghoe Koo missed a 42 and 43 yard FG (both of which should be easy kicks in today’s NFL) and the Chargers fell to 0-2.
Week 3-4: Philip Rivers inexplicably throws three awful interceptions against the Chiefs, before the Chargers lose by two to the Eagles - who head to Minnesota this Sunday for the Superbowl.
Week 7: Now we’re in business. A dominant 21-0 win over the Broncos, and the first time in the season the Chargers looked like they could be a threat in the AFC West.
Week 8: Lose by one score to the Patriots, the other team in the Superbowl on Sunday. The Chargers are again doomed by poor Special Teams, as Travis Benjamin returns a punt into the endzone, forgetting that in the NFL you switch sides after each quarter.
Week 10: Hahahahahahaha. The Chargers Charge against the Jaguars. Anthony Lynn vows to never let it happen again. I believe him a lot more than I ever believed Mike McCoy.
Week 11: It shows real mental toughness to respond to throwing your season away by putting up 54 points on a team who’d go on to make the Playoffs. Nathan Peterman wasn’t the reason the Bills performed so badly - Joey Bosa being in his face like a disappointed parent was. The Chargers defense obliterates the Bills, Nathan Peterman is ridiculed, and the Chargers go to 4-6. Their season is still over, though.
Week 12: Or is it? The Chargers carry on right where they left off, crushing the Cowboys in the biggest game of the regular season. Anthony Lynn has this team thriving off the limelight. Jerry Jones retires from the NFL, as Keenan Allen is the new owner of the Dallas Cowboys.
Week 13-14: A safe win over the Browns before destroying another NFC East team in the Redskins. The Chargers have gone from 0-4 to having a winning record at 7-6, and with the Chiefs collapsing, head to Kansas City for the most important game the Chargers have had since 2013.
Week 15: The one that still hurts. Philip Rivers never looked comfortable, and the Chiefs ease past the Chargers. The AFC West is out the window. Anthony Lynn probably wishes he could throw some of the players through the window, too.
Week 16-17: The Chargers (just about) knock off the Jets before destroying the Raiders (always enjoyable), but results don’t go in their favor, and they fail to make the Playoffs, ending the year at 9-7.
After an 0-4 start, the Chargers should have been dead and buried, looking at a Top 10 pick for the third year in a row, but that didn’t happen. Anthony Lynn kept them competitive, and, most importantly, they learnt from their mistakes. The clock management issues that had plagued the Chargers under Mike McCoy disappeared, for the most part.
After going 0-4 the Chargers went 9-3, with the three losses coming away at Playoff teams - the Superbowl bound New England Patriots, the AFC runners up Jacksonville Jaguars, and the hilariously bad in the Playoffs Kansas City Chiefs. That’s a damn respectable run to close out the season.
One extra win would have put the Chargers in the Playoffs. That could either be the kicking loss to the Dolphins, or the freak loss to the Jaguars, but it doesn’t really matter where you want to pull that extra win from. In the last 12 games of the season, the Chargers showed that they could be a legitimate force in the AFC.
Remember, this is a team that got essentially zero production from both their first and second round pick this year. Mike Williams probably isn’t going to turn into an All-Pro, but he’ll almost certainly contribute... something next year. Forrest Lamp was considered one of the most Pro Ready prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft, and he’s expected to become an immediate upgrade on the Offensive Line next year.
Both of those players will add to an already incredibly talented, young core of players the Chargers have. On offense, Melvin Gordon is 24, Austin Ekeler is 22, Keenan Allen is (still) only 25, as is Tyrell Williams, and Hunter Henry is 23, as is Mike Williams. On the line, Dan Feeney and Forrest Lamp are both 23, and Spencer Pulley is 24. That’s nine - nine! - important contributors to the offense that are all 25 or under. Can you imagine the amount of avocado toast that gets consumed in the meeting rooms?
The offense was pretty good last year, but it’s fair to expect that the majority of these young players will develop and get even better. The defense is a little older, but even more talented. Two elite edge rushers on the same team? That needs to be outlawed for the safety of Quarterbacks. The best cornerback in the league playing across from Trevor Williams (who’s 24) and Desmond King (who’s 23)? The Chargers might be the single worst team in the league to play against as a QB.
I’m not going to pretend that the Chargers are perfect going into next year. They need to re-sign Tre Boston (or find a replacement). They need more help at DT and LB than they’re likely to get, and even with the Mike Williams pick, they could probably do with another option at WR. Oh, and a kicker who can actually kick would be nice, too. They also need to think about the long term (mainly, replacing Philip Rivers), but the Chargers are in a good position heading into the offseason, even if they don’t have a huge amount of salary cap space to manoeuvre with.
The Chargers easily have enough talent on paper to make a legitimate run next season, but I’ve thought that in each of the last three seasons and been burnt every time.
Instead, let’s look at it like this: If the Chargers want to make the Playoffs, all they need to do is:
- Beat the Oakland Raiders, an average team coached by some guy off a video game that hasn’t coached in the NFL in a decade
- Beat the
Trevor Siemian Paxton Lynch Brock Osweiler Trevor Siemian Brock Osweiler Trevor Siemianerr... Kirk Cousins? led Denver Broncos, coached by someone who is no longer having the time of his life
- Beat the Kansas City Chiefs, a team with ageing players, not much cap room, and who are pinning all their hopes on a QB who is
going to go into the Hall of Fameuntested and unproven in the NFL.
I’m not going to go on record and make a bold claim that the Chargers are going to win the AFC West - I’m not that naive (anymore). Instead, I’ll say this:
The 2018 Chargers have a chance to make a deep playoff run. And, if they do, the transitional period that the 2017 season was - transitioning from an awful team with an awful Head Coach to a non-awful team with a non-awful Head Coach - will have been a major reason why. For the first time since Mike McCoy’s first season, we’re heading into an offseason full of optimism, rather than dejected negativity. It feels good.
Of course, that’ll all change when the Chargers lose the season opener after a missed PAT, but we don’t need to worry about that just yet.