The Los Angeles Chargers produced an underwhelming 2019 season, finishing last in the AFC West. The Chargers followed up their disappointing campaign by losing two of their top offensive weapons to free agency. Fourteen-year starting QB Philip Rivers shuffled off to Indianapolis, and two-time Pro Bowl RB Melvin Gordon defected to Denver.
Both Rivers and Gordon saw a significant dip in production in 2019, but their absence hurts the Chargers’ chances. Even with the 10th-weakest schedule in the league (.492), Los Angeles will struggle to win games in 2020. Our sportsbook lists the Chargers’ odds to win the division at +725, second only to the Kansas City Chiefs. Despite the optimistic moneyline, it’s likely that Los Angeles finishes in the AFC West basement again.
This preview breaks the Chargers’ season into four quarters, generating win-loss predictions for each quadrant. We’ll then match up the predicted season win totals with our regular-season wins odds, picking a corresponding over/under. Let’s do a quick refresher of 2019 before analyzing 2020.
Regular Season: 5-11
Defensively, the Chargers are solid. The defense was in the top-five vs the pass in 2019 but was mediocre against the run. The Chargers addressed that weakness by bringing DT Linval Joseph on board. Joseph is expected to wreak havoc alongside Pro Bowlers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Although the Chargers can hold their own on defense, they still need a potent offense to put points on the board.
With a respectable defense, Rivers at QB, and Gordon in the backfield, the 2019 Chargers still lost every divisional game. How can L.A. have better odds to win the AFC West than Denver or Vegas, with Rivers & Gordon gone? Perhaps it’s because the Chargers have Tyrod Taylor starting at quarterback. Let’s compare the quarterbacks. This will be fun. Taylor had two decent seasons with Buffalo, when he threw for over 3,000 yards in each. Not bad.
Contrast that with Rivers, who has thrown for 3,000+-yards every single season since being named the starter in 2006. Rivers has thrown for 4,000+-yards 11 times, and has never thrown for less than 3,000 as a starter. El Capitan’s lowest throwing yardage total (3,152) is higher than Taylor’s best (3,035).
So, that’s not it. Taylor is more of a dual-threat, running quarterback than a gunslinger. Taylor would probably make a great game manager type QB on a team that’s stacked. The 2020 Los Angeles Chargers are not, not by a long shot.
Despite the putrid overall results, 2019 was an impressive year for Los Angeles receivers. WRs Keenan Allen and Mike Williams each eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving, and TE Hunter Henry gained a career-high 652 yards. RBs Gordon and Austin Ekeler combined for 134 receptions, 1,289 receiving yards, and nine TDs through the air. Gordon rushed for 612 yards and eight TDs after his holdout. Now that Gordon is gone, Ekeler must assume the role of lead running back. Ekeler has never been an every-down back, and the rushing workload might be too heavy.
The Chargers can’t really count on backup RB Justin Jackson to stay healthy, so that leaves unproven rookie Joshua Kelley to share the backfield grind. The O-line sports three Pro Bowlers in Trai Turner, Bryan Bulaga, and Mike Pouncey, so they’ve got a fighting chance. Let’s see how the Chargers fare in Devlin’s crystal ball.
Our Week 1 NFL odds have the Chargers (-125) favored by three points in Cincinnati vs the Bengals. That’s a nice line, and Los Angeles should win by at least 10 points. The Chargers jump-start their 2020 season, jolting the Bengals on their way to victory. The Week 2 NFL odds list Los Angeles (-105) as 6½-point underdogs against Kansas City in the Chargers’ first game at SoFi Stadium. How cruel of the NFL algorithm. Count on the Chiefs (-115) to cover the spread, as the world champs dominate Los Angeles.
The Chargers strike early and often on the Carolina Panthers in Week 3, earning their first W at SoFi Stadium. Tom Brady’s Buccaneers cut down the Chargers in Week 4. The struggle for mediocrity is on for Los Angeles’ AFC representative.
The Saints march all over the Chargers in New Orleans, in a Week 5 blowout. Los Angeles returns home in Week 6, surviving a fourth-quarter surge by the NY Jets. The Miami Dolphins eke out a home victory in Week 7, edging out the frustrated Chargers. Back in SoFi Stadium for Week 8, Los Angeles stomps the Jacksonville Jaguars to a pulp.
This is when everything gets ugly for the Chargers, and the lights go out. Despite having a bye week mixed in, L.A. loses four straight games. The Chargers fall to the Raiders, Broncos, Bills, and Patriots, in that order. Sometime during this dismal stretch, a rookie named Justin Herbert starts getting first-team reps at QB. Herbert, the No. 6 pick from the 2020 NFL draft, takes over as team leader in Los Angeles. Our OROY odds rate Justin Herbert at +3500 to win offensive rookie of the year.
Herbert notches his first NFL win following a brilliant Week 14 performance against the Atlanta Falcons. It’ll be the last game Herbert and the Chargers win. loses in Las Vegas to the Raiders in Week 15, then gets trampled by the Broncos at Sofi Stadium. The Chargers’ 2020 season comes to a screeching halt in Arrowhead Stadium, when the Chiefs win convincingly in Week 17.
The Chargers are predicted to finish the 2020 season with a record of 5-11. The 5-11 record is identical to L.A.’s win-loss record in 2019, including the 0-6 record within the division. If nothing else, the Chargers are consistent. Brighter days are ahead, but smart money would bet on L.A. to win less than 7½ games this coming season. Our regular-season wins odds are doing us all a favor because the moneyline for the under is +115. Slapping a cool hundo down on this bet will earn you an additional $115 when it hits.