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Chargers’ 2018 Schedule Prediction: Part 3

I take a swing at predicting the outcomes for the Chargers’ match-ups in weeks 10-13.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Current record after nine weeks (post-bye): 7-1

11/11 Week 10 @ Oakland Raiders

In just over one month’s time, the Chargers will take on the Raiders again and I feel a bit more confident this time around than I did when I wrote about their first match-up.

Within the last week, the Raiders traded away slot receiver Ryan Switzer to the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for draft capital. Earlier in the preseason, they traded DL Jihad Ward in return for the former-Tar Heel.

The most surprising part, other than a good slot receiver getting passed around like the stuffing at Thanksgiving dinner, is that he was traded for what seems to be the inability to beat out WR Griff Whalen for a starting position.

What..?

Whalen, the former Stanford Cardinal that the Chargers kicked the tires on before their WR depth became substantial. The receiver who only sniffed the field when it was absollutely necessary.

Woof. This whole Gruden thing happening in Oakland just looks better and better every week.

The Chargers sweep the Raiders in a game that will once again seem closer than it is and may be decided on how well they are able to stop the run. UDFA RB Chris Warren is my X-factor while looking like a hassle and a half to bring down. This makes me worry about just how great the potential is for Marshawn Lynch and him to tire out the Chargers’ defense if they are unable to stop the run.

2018 Record: 8-1

11/18 Week 11 Vs. Denver Broncos

The Broncos may have found the answer to their ground game woes in rookie running back Royce Freeman out of Oregon. Freeman has scored a touchdown in all three preseason games and looks like a much better back from the jump than Devontae Booker. Unfortunately, GM John Elway came out and admitted that Booker was still the Broncos’ starter, even after an abysmal performance by the former Ute.

While the Denver defense still has the potential to give the Bolts fits, I’m riding a high of confidence after the shutout last season.

The offense worries me a bit more after watching QB Case Keenum this preseason because you can visibly see his connections with the wide receivers growing before your eyes. Emmanuel Sanders looks rejuvenated and Demaryius Thomas has another competent quarterback to throw him the ball, once again.

In the end, I believe the Bolts’ pass-rush will be the deciding factor as they will wreak havoc against the Broncos’ front five. Keenum isn’t the best when under pressure and you can expect him to get pretty flustered whenever he plays the Chargers.

2018 Record: 9-1

11/25 Week 12 Vs. Arizona Cardinals

The game against the Cardinals starts the two-game stretch where the Chargers face a top-3 running back in the NFL. Just like when I was still attending the University of Iowa, I got to watch David Johnson shred the entire Hawkeye defense by himself like it was just another day at the office.

In 2018, I may get stuck watching the same show, in different colors.

Johnson is a dual-threat back in the truest sense. In 2016, he was on pace to surpass the 1,000-yard mark in both rushing and receiving yards until he suffered a leg injury in the season finale. After missing all of 2017 to a hand-injury, Johnson will have the freshest legs in the game.

If the Chargers don’t find the their answer to the run defense woes, this could be a long, long night. Larry Legend is still in town and his impact will rise and fall depending on who is under center against the Bolts. My money is on rookie Josh Rosen, but you never know at this point in the year.

The defense has some playmakers in All Pro CB Patrick Peterson and 2017 sack leader DE/OLB Chandler Jones. Gone is the Honey Badger but he was coincidentally replaced with former Charger safety, Tre Boston. A downgrade, in my opinion, but a good player nonetheless.

With the recent injury to their starting center AQ Shipley, the already underwhelming offensive line will be forced to start rookie Mason Cole out of Michigan. I don’t know about you, but a rookie center and quarterback combination doesn’t really scream “good” or “safe bet”.

This game also screams “trap” and it’s tough for me to give the team another victory. I just don’t see the Cardinals being able to beat the Chargers on the backs of Johnson and Fitzgerald, alone.

It’s unlikely, but the Chargers win their eighth in a row.

2018 Record: 10-1

12/2 Week 13 @ Pittsburgh Steelers

I’m absolutely stoked for this game. Can you imagine the potential star-power that will be on tap? If both teams have phenomenal records and none of the stud players get hurt, just how much fun will this game be to watch?

Philip Rivers v. Ben Roethlisberger.

Melvin Gordon v. Le’Veon Bell.

Keenan Allen v. Antonio Brown.

It’s the fever dream of casual fans and fanatics alike who just want to see the best of the best play. But other than a contest just jam-packed with talent, this game may be a potential preview of this year’s AFC championship game.

If it was any season prior to this one, I would have agreed that the Steelers offense is far and away the better unit. This year, however, I believe the scales are much more balanced. Each team has their star QB, RB, and WR, but what will inevitably make the difference is the supporting cast around them.

TE Hunter Henry is gone and has been replaced by Virgil Green. The Steelers are sporting Vance McDonald who was a reliable contributor during his time with the 49ers. As for the team’s second, third, and fourth wide receivers, this one has gotta go to the Chargers by a slight margin.

Tyrell Williams and Juju Smith-Schuster are both above-average secondary wide receivers in the NFL. Tyrell boasts a 1,000-yard season while Smith-Schuster just put up 917 yards in his rookie season. Both also ranked at the top for yards-after-catch among receivers, via Pro Football Focus.

The team’s potential third wideouts, second-year Mike Williams and rookie James Washington, are both unproven in the regular season of the NFL. Williams’ rookie year was essentially a redshirt season after his injuries and Washington is obviously heading into his first year as a professional. Both were among the best wide receivers in the nation in college and make this match-up a wash for me.

Travis Benjamin as the team’s fourth wideout wins it for the Bolts as he provides phenomenal value as a vertical threat. The Steelers are currently still sifting through their guys with the obvious choices being Justin Hunter or newly-acquired slot receiver Ryan Switzer.

As for the defenses, it’s a run away for LA on paper. Cornerbacks are a sweep. Edge rushers closer but still no cigar. I’ll give the Steelers the win in the linebacker category based solely on the fact that the Chargers’ starting group could end up looking several different ways.

After all of this, I cannot help but see the home-field advantage for the Steelers playing a massive role in the outcome of this game. Although the Chargers have been used to playing 16 away games, Heinz Field is its’ own beast.

Consider this the inevitable blip in a season full of high expectations. I’m going Steelers.

2018 Record: 10-2