The Comeback is previewing all 32 NFL teams from worst to first leading up to the start of the 2017 regular season on Sept. 7. Coming in at No. 23 on our rankings are the snake-bitten Los Angeles Chargers.
2016 in a nutshell: Stuck in the best division in the league, the Chargers were the most unlucky team in football. They won only five games but according to Football Outsiders, they should have won eight. Per the same source, no AFC team was hit harder by injuries. And as Michael Salfino of the Wall Street Journal wrote in October, during the first five weeks of the season, the Bolts lost two games in which they had a 99.9 percent chance to win and two other games in which they had a win probability of 75 percent or higher. The odds of that happening? One in 30 million.
What’s different: Anthony Lynn takes over as head coach after swiftly rising through the ranks in Buffalo. Oh, and the Chargers now reside in Los Angeles, not San Diego.
Why they could be awesome: Lynn brings fresh energy, and they’ve still got a ton of talent with quarterback Philip Rivers and weapons Keenan Allen, Melvin Gordon, Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry on offense as well as reigning defensive rookie of the year Joey Bosa and top-notch starters Melvin Ingram, Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward on D.
Why they could suck: You’d think the law of averages would be in their favor, but their top two draft picks, Mike Williams and Forrest Lamp, are already out long-term, as is projected starting linebacker Denzel Perryman. Can the rest of the roster hold up? And even if it does, will that be enough in a division with Kansas City, Oakland and Denver?
Major additions: Veteran offensive tackle Russell Okung takes over on Rivers’ blind side.
Major losses: Running back Danny Woodhead signed with Baltimore.
Hunter Henry on the crossing route. pic.twitter.com/Dx1pGv0x4M
— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) August 14, 2017
Breakout watch: Henry, who led the team with eight receiving touchdowns as a rookie last season, looks primed to explode as he inevitably takes on a larger role in place of the aging Gates in 2017. He really came on late last season, scoring five of those touchdowns in the final seven weeks.
Position to watch: The offensive line was a lightning rod last season. Once again, it couldn’t establish continuity because nobody could stay healthy. And basically everybody except so-so center Matt Slauson was terrible when healthy anyway. They spent big bucks on Okung, who hasn’t been good in half a decade, and they said goodbye to D.J. Fluker, Orlando Franklin and King Dunlap. With Lamp out for the year, that leaves them hoping that Slauson can keep it together and Okung and Joe Barksdale (also bad last year) can come through in the tackle spots. And even then, there’d be questions inside.
Prediction: I wouldn’t be shocked if the Chargers made a run if they’re able to stay healthy. But that isn’t happening right now and there’s too much room for the feces to hit the fan. They were better than their record last year and it’s beginning to look as though that’ll be the case again in 2017.
7-9, last place in the AFC West