The Chargers don’t have much to play for this week, but every player on the team will definitely have their “why” when they take the field in Denver.
Whether it’s notching another victory in the win column, padding their season stats, or simply living out their dream job, there won’t be a lack of intensity and focus on Sunday, no matter what happens in the Ravens-Bengals contest.
With that said, below are the three biggest things I’ll be watching for when these teams take the field in the regular season finale.
1.) If the Bengals beat the Ravens in the early window, how many starters will Brandon Staley rest?
As I’m typing this, the plan is for the Chargers to prepare and play against the Broncos like it’s any other game on their schedule in hopes of clinching the AFC’s No. 5 seed. However, since the Ravens and Bengals are scheduled to play at 10:00 a.m. PT just before the Chargers and Broncos kickoff at 1:25 p.m. PT, Brandon Staley will be able to acknowledge the results of that game and decide in real time how he’ll handle workloads for his starters ahead of the playoffs.
So if the Ravens do lose to the Bengals and the Chargers clinch the No. 5 seed before ever kicking off in Denver, who will most likely get the day off? Of course guys like Justin Herbert, Khalil Mack, and Austin Ekeler come to mind, but I wonder just how many of the team’s 22 starters will get to kick up their feet? After all, I’m sure there’s plenty in the building who would like to see their team get to 11 wins and improve on their 2020 record by two whole games.
If anything, I see it as one more thing the team can do to show the league that they’re better than they were a year ago, even with the litany of injuries that have spurned them throughout most of the season.
2.) Chargers could finish with six players recording 500 or more receiving yards this season
Entering Sunday’s game, wide receiver DeAndre Carter is just five yards away from reaching 500 on the season. He’s already broken his previous career high of 296 this season and were he to reach 500 on Sunday, that would mean the Chargers will finish the regular season with six players who have recorded 500 or more yards receiving. Joining Carter in registering a career high this season is tight end Gerald Everett who currently has 547 in 16 games, which is 69 more than he posted a year ago with the Seahawks.
This is based on loose facts, but someone on Twitter has reportedly been doing the research and advised me that the 2011 Saints are the only other team in NFL history to have six or more players record 500+ receiving yards in a single season.
I’ve actually been tracking this for a few weeks. 2011 Saints is the only time it’s happened before!— Alec O (@Alec_FF) January 6, 2023
This is almost a sure bet if the Chargers refrain from playing their starters, but it’s nonetheless one of the more interesting storylines this weekend as the Chargers aren’t truly playing for anything else other than positioning in the postseason.
3.) Should the starters play, can Ekeler get to 20 touchdowns for a second consecutive season?
After failing to find the end zone through the first three games of the season, Ekeler has gone on to score 18 touchdowns over the past 13 games. That’s simply amazing and he is more than deserving to continue stuff the stat sheet in a year where he’s been the team’s offensive MVP.
Over the past two seasons, Ekeler currently leads the NFL with 38 total touchdowns, which is 12 more than the next closest player. He has a career high 103 receptions — also a franchise record for a running back in a season — and is building on a career high 13 rushing touchdowns. All of us who have followed and supported Ekeler ever since he made the team as a UDFA in 2017 couldn’t be more proud and ecstatic for a guy who has truly deserved everything he has achieved in the NFL.
If there even a slight chance that he can continue to add to his legacy this season, I believe he’s earned the right to do just that. Should Ekeler get to 20 touchdowns this week, he’d join some very elite company as the only players to record multiple seasons of at least 20 touchdowns in NFL history, which currently includes LaDainian Tomlinson, Priest Holmes, and Shaun Alexander.