When picking the slate of games I deemed most important I had tough decisions. The end of the season is important, but not if you’re out of the playoff race. It’s also important to get off to a fast start, but even the slowest starts can be remedied in the final twelve games.
I ended up going with a rather random stretch of games in the middle of the season. I decided that weeks 6-9 is the most pivotal stretch with one theme in mind: taking care of business.
This is probably the softest part of the schedule, but the Chargers often struggle with bad teams. If the team could manage to sweep these games they would have to play just .500 football the rest of the way to get to 10-6. Los Angeles has had many seasons derailed losing to inferior teams and this year they absolutely can’t let these games get away from them.
Week 6 vs New York Jets
Like the Chargers, the Jets have been one of the most tortured franchises in recent memory. There was a lot of hope that Sam Darnold could be the man to change it. Two years into his young career, many Jets fans have more questions than answers.
In 2019 Darnold missed three games due to mononucleosis but wasn’t great when he was on the field. Although the Jets went 7-6 in his starts, Darnold had a QBR of 43.6 and a passer rating of 84.3. Those numbers rank 24th and 19th respectively in the NFL. Plus he sees ghosts. One sign of hope, however, is that only 3 of his 13 interceptions came in his final six games.
The Jets have some very talented players like Le’Veon Bell, Jamal Adams, and C.J. Mosley. Outside of those players, you would be hard-pressed to find many others ranking near the top of their position. It’s hard to get excited about free-agent additions like Joe Flacco or one-year wonder Breshad Perriman. When it comes to overall talent, I’m not buying in on the Jets.
This match-up is one of the most volatile because it’s hard to know what to expect from New York. CBS Sports recently predicted them to finish 7-9, including a loss to the Chargers. If Los Angeles’ secondary can live up to the hype, this should be a very tough matchup for Darnold and the Jets.
Week 7 at Miami
You wouldn’t know it from the blowout win against the Dolphins in 2019, but the Chargers historically struggle in Miami. Before that win, the last time the team had won on the road against the Dolphins was the “Epic in Miami” during the 1981 playoffs. After such a big gap between wins, it’s easy to be concerned.
This is also a team that, like the Chargers, has a young quarterback waiting in the wings. At this point, we don’t know if it will be Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tua Tagovailoa starting when the teams square off in October.
Another factor is the amount of talent the Dolphins added in free agency. Miami took home the title of biggest spenders this off-season giving out over $252 million in total contracts. They brought in one of the league’s best corners in Byron Jones for the biggest cornerback contract ever. They also made some other very solid additions to their front-seven with defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
There were some questionable additions as well, but there is very little continuity. Winning free-agency doesn’t always translate to actual wins. With the shortened offseason, trying to integrate all of these new players is going to be difficult.
Head Coach Brian Flores did well last season finishing with five wins after an 0-8 start. Still, the Dolphins were one of 2019’s worst teams finishing last in both total and defensive DVOA per Football Outsiders. This team has some very talented players, but are still in the process of rebuilding the roster. The first year of the Tua era could be a struggle and right now this looks like one of the Chargers’ most winnable games.
Week 8 vs Jacksonville
This is another team we saw the Chargers smoke in the 2019 season, winning 45-10 in Week 14. Returning starter, Gardner Minshew found no success, averaging 4.4 yards per attempt on 37 throws. Los Angeles had its best offensive game of the season with 525 yards of offense including an 84-yard touchdown by Austin Ekeler.
The Jaguars held a fire sale this offseason trading away the big contracts of Nick Foles, Calais Campbell, and A.J. Bouye. Moving Foles was a win, but they are losing two very good players on the other side of the ball. Campbell was the heart and soul of the unit and was one of the last remaining stars of a once-vaunted defense.
Offensively there is not a lot of hope for a resurgence in 2020. I think Minshew was a pleasant surprise last year but has some obvious shortcomings. Wide receiver D.J. Chark had a breakout season and has legitimate number one receiver potential. After that, the optimism fades. Former 4th overall pick Leonard Fournette continues to struggle, only eclipsing 80 rushing yards in four games last season.
The Jags are the current frontrunner in the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. And they seem good with it. This is a game the Chargers can’t let slip away.
Week 9 vs Las Vegas
You can’t talk about important games without putting one inside the division. No one knows this better than the Chargers who went winless in the AFC West last season. Raiders-Chargers has been as streaky as it gets. Between 2017-2018 the Chargers won four straight match-ups after losing four in a row in 2015-2016.
In 2020 the Raiders will be bringing back most of its biggest contributors from last year. Then they added to it. Offensively, Las Vegas returns all five starters on a good offensive line, and budding star running back Josh Jacobs. They also added some explosiveness in the draft with speedsters Lynn Bowden Jr. and Henry Ruggs III.
Defensively the Raiders had a lot of work to do after finishing as the 31st ranked defense in DVOA in 2019. They also finished 24th or worse in the NFL in points allowed and pass defense. Las Vegas did overhaul their secondary adding corners Damarious Randall and Prince Amukamara, but they’re not guaranteed to play well. They also bolstered their front seven with linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski and defensive linemen Maliek Collins and Carl Nassib. Upfront the Raiders are now much improved.
Their fate will be in the hands of Derek Carr. He arguably is coming off his best season with career highs in completion percentage, passing yards, yards per attempt, and passer rating. Still, he’s on the hot seat and has only had a winning record once in his six seasons. And he threw the ball away that one time on fourth down.
Even with all of the additions, the Raiders could be the Chargers’ best chance at divisional wins. I see them and the Broncos at this point to be very close. This game will be at home and is a great chance for the Chargers to snag a win in the West.
After the Raiders game, the Chargers will have their bye week. This is a very important week because, if the team struggles to this point, they could decide to make a quarterback change. If Tyrod Taylor doesn’t play well against these subpar teams, will the Justin Herbert era begin?
I do believe that the Chargers want to let Herbert sit, but if the team is 3-6 or 4-5 at the break they could look for a spark. Even if the team is totally out of contention they could try to get the young quarterback valuable on-field experience. If Taylor can even go 3-1 in this period, he might very well be saving his job, and building his resume for the future.
There is so much on the line. Whether it’s making the playoffs, or jobs on the line, all of these things could be decided by what the Chargers can do in these four crucial games.