Only the Indianapolis Colts will have more players going to the Pro Bowl than the Los Angeles Chargers. And no team will have more players scheduled to start the game than their five.
But Los Angeles still needs wins to qualify for the AFC playoffs, its pursuit continuing with Sunday’s visit to the Houston Texans.
At 8-6, the Chargers are realistically fighting for one of the three wild-card spots after last week’s tough 34-28 overtime home loss to Kansas City. Had Los Angeles won, it could have tied the Chiefs for first in the West at 9-5 and held the tiebreaker by virtue of a season sweep.
Instead, the Chargers will have to do this the hard way.
“I felt like they left everything out on that field against a team that is a champion,” said first-year coach Brandon Staley. “I felt like our team competed at a championship level. I felt like that was a championship environment.”
The good news is the final three games appear to be manageable. Los Angeles is a 10-point favorite against Houston before hosting Denver and traveling to Las Vegas. And it has a rising star at quarterback.
There has been no sophomore slump for Justin Herbert. He’s gone from Offensive Rookie of the Year to leading the AFC with 32 touchdown passes in his second year. It’s not unrealistic to project that after having a quarterback start every game for 14 consecutive years in Philip Rivers, the Chargers may enjoy the same luxury with Herbert.
“He’s balling,” said wide receiver Keenan Allen. “He’s going crazy. He’s leading us in his second year. He’s just making outstanding play after outstanding play. Savage, he’s throwing touchdowns to everybody on the field. He’s just ridiculous.”
Herbert may have to approach those superlatives again this week, even against the 3-11 Texans. Los Angeles will be without three defensive starters, including elite pass-rusher Joey Bosa, and its defense is tied for 27th in points allowed per game.
Then again, the Texans haven’t exactly put the fright in opponents’ hearts, except for Jacksonville. Their 14.8 ppg mark ranks 31st in the league, and if it weren’t for the Jaguars, they would be averaging just under 12 ppg.
But they did get Davis Mills’ first NFL win last week in Jacksonville as he threw for 209 yards and two scores in a 30-16 victory. Brandin Cooks riddled the Jaguars for 102 yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions, putting him in range of a 100-catch year. He needs 20 over the last three games.
Houston might also be able to make headway on the ground, even with the league’s worst running game. The Chargers haven’t been able to get good run fits this year, meaning that the likes of Rex Burkhead and David Johnson could enjoy good games.
Burkhead helped the Texans salt away last week’s victory in Jacksonville.
“He’s able to do what’s best for the team,” Mills said of Burkhead. “When we were having to drive the ball in that four-minute mode trying to eat the clock, he was running hard.”
–Field Level Media