On Sunday morning, I noticed on Reddit a stat: since 1990, at least four teams have gone from not in the playoffs to in the playoffs every single year. It’s not exactly what I would call a “surprising” stat because there are so many playoff spots but then again, go ask someone who they think will make the playoffs next year.
In my experience, people rarely deviate from the teams that made the playoffs the season before. It’s too hard for people to disconnect from what they just saw even though as we all know, “What have you done for me TODAY?” is the theme of sports fandom.
What will the Los Angeles Chargers do for you tomorrow?
You know the recent history of the Chargers but here’s a quick recap of the important parts to me:
Tom Telesco was hired as GM in 2013 and in that time the team has made the playoffs twice, going 9-7 in 2013 and 12-4 in 2018. They have missed the playoffs on five occasions under Telesco. They hired head coach Anthony Lynn in 2017 and he’s gone 9-7, 12-4, and 5-11. The team’s scoring defense was roughly the same in 2019 as it was when they went 12-4, but they scored 91 fewer points on offense. Philip Rivers is not the starter for the first time since 2005.
How long should it take the Chargers to get back to the playoffs?
The One Year Case
The NFL has expanded the playoff field from six teams per conference to seven teams and this will increase the odds for LA or any team to make it to the postseason. That’s one reason to believe that going from 5-11 to into the playoffs is feasible.
Another reason to think that the Chargers could be a playoff team in 2020 (or the next season) is that the defense remains largely the same, if not improved. Joey Bosa, Casey Hayward, and Derwin James are all superstars returning to the field, but Chris Harris, Linval Joseph, and Kenneth Murray have been added to the mix. There’s also Melvin Ingram. The defense looks like it could be a star defense to me.
The team also made improvements to the offensive line that indicate that they want the unit to be extraordinary immediately as opposed to two or three years down the line, signing Bryan Bulaga and trading for Trai Turner. Those two and a healthy Mike Pouncey could turn LA from having one of the worst o-lines into having it as a strength.
You also have to think that Lynn needs this season to go much better than 2019. A head coach going 9-7 and then 12-4 in his first two years may buy him safety from a 5-11 campaign, but not usually back-to-back 5-11 seasons. I’m not saying that Lynn couldn’t survive 7-9 or even 5-11, but I don’t buy that anyone would be okay with the team going 4-12 just because they have a rookie QB.
The Two Year Case
The Chargers seem pretty solid to me at many positions other than quarterback, which can be a formula for 4-12 or a formula for dominance if their rookie contract QB is really good. There’s so much mystery that’s simply wrapped up in what Justin Herbert actually is going to be at the next level. His value determines everything.
The Tyrod Taylor Chargers of next season, however, may only get to that 8-8 mark. Of course, if Taylor is bad and the team is losing, there’s nothing that’s going to prevent Herbert from replacing him early in the season (other than health) and being the one to potentially take those Ls. In either case, the 2020 Chargers are almost certainly looking to build a playoff resume similar to that of the 2019 Buffalo Bills (Josh Allen), the 2018 Chicago Bears (Mitchell Trubisky), the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars (Blake Bortles), the 2017 Tennessee Titans (Marcus Mariota), or yes, the 2017 Bills (TYROD TAYLOR);
A team that has a strong defense, gets a bit lucky, and wins in spite of its quarterback. And I like Josh Allen enough, but we aren’t gonna get mixed up on who was responsible for what in Buffalo last season.
The reality of the next-season Chargers is that they are in a division with the defending Super Bowl champs and nobody’s not gonna pick the Kansas City Chiefs to make the playoffs and probably win the AFC West. That likely means a 2020 spot for the Chargers would be a wild card and they need to climb over the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders first, before then also needing to challenge teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers/Baltimore Ravens, the Titans/Houston Texans/Indianapolis Colts, and potentially even a wild card New England Patriots team this time around.
Of course, there’s also the teams who, like the Chargers, aren’t being mentioned but hope that’s just because people “don’t know about us yet.”
I could see LA being a team working their way up the ladder in 2020 but ultimately, in their most likely good scenario for good, isn’t really a contender until 2021. However ...
There Is No Three Year Case
This is why I emphasize a belief that there is no such thing as “rebuilding” in the NFL. Not really. You can only re-tool for next season, maybe at most two years down the line. You can say that drafting Herbert was a “move for the future, for 10 years from now” and that’s not wrong either. You are drafting Herbert to help you in one year and in five years and in ten years but if he’s not winning you games in three years, then either he’s gone or the coach is gone. It’s as simple as that. And almost 100% of the time, the coach is gone. Much of the rest of the time, both are.
There is no “plan” that involves the Chargers not making the playoffs again until 2022. (Non-coronavirus timeline.) None. If that happens, this current plan didn’t work. If LA fails to make the playoffs in 2020, it’s possible that Lynn is going to get fired. If they don’t make the playoffs in either 2020 or 2021, then he is absolutely going to be fired. Probably Telesco too.
So the answer to the question couldn’t possibly be, “I think these Chargers are setup for success in 2022” because “these Chargers” would include Lynn, Telesco, and Herbert. There’s no way that trio is missing the next two playoffs and still running the show in three years. None. What do I think is likely?
A lot of that depends on Herbert, but I really like what the Chargers have done on defense and around the QB. As of this very early date, I could see LA being square in that 8-8 range with a two-game swing in either direction (as bad as 6-10, as good as 10-6), so yes, there are quite a few scenarios where they make an expanded AFC playoffs.
When will the Chargers make the playoffs again?
This poll is closed
2022 (with Lynn)
2022 (with a new head coach)
2023 or later (the current plan is a failure)