2018 NFL season preview: Los Angeles Chargers

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The time has never been better for Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to take over the AFC West. In the midst of transitions across the division, the Chargers are set up to make a strong run. In reality, the Chargers have the personnel to compete with any team in the NFL.

The first key to having a competitive advantage over opponents is having a great quarterback leading the team. Rivers fits the bill. He has done so well over the years with far inferior teammates on his side. While the offseason injury to up and coming tight end Hunter Henry surely hurts the offensive game plan and limits Rivers’s weapons, the team should be able to overcome his absence, with a full offseason to make the necessary adjustments.

On a positive note, Keenan Allen is a star who is ready to shine once again in 2018. And Melvin Gordon has proven his doubters wrong. With the Chiefs and Broncos transitioning to new quarterbacks, and the Raiders adapting to all sorts of new faces, the time is now for the rising Chargers.

Gordon will be key to the Chargers’ offensive success. Sure, there is a lot left to be desired from a yards per carry perspective, but he remains such a pivotal part of their weekly game plan, as they feed him the ball relentlessly both in the running and passing games. Rivers looks to Gordon as a reliable check down option out of the backfield. His ability to make big plays in space provides an extra element to the team’s attack, which is often difficult to defend. Not every defense has a capable linebacker or safety that can consistently shut down these plays. And even if they do, they are forced to commit that player to shadowing Gordon, thereby opening up various other options in other parts of the field. Gordon remains a red zone threat, particularly with the rate at which the Chargers feed him the ball from in close.

Defensively, the Chargers boast one of the best units in the entire league. Their pass rush duo of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa are an unstoppable force, sure to cause defensive coordinators headaches all season long. These guys all feed off of each other, and they also provide a great boost for an already stout secondary. Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett are a tough matchup for opposing receivers. This group ranked third in pass defense in 2017, giving up just 197 passing yards per game. Moreover, they ceded just 17 touchdowns total on the year, while recording 18 interceptions. Those types of plays can change the course of the game.

Only time will tell if the Chargers are ready to take the next step into the upper echelon of the AFC’s elite. They will find the going tough when competing against the Patriots or Steelers, but on paper, they should be able to compete admirably against anyone. The one factor that remains unpredictable is their health. While injuries are unpredictable for any player or team in the NFL, the Chargers have been constantly bombarded with so many injuries that it’s difficult to overlook this as a factor. They need to do whatever is possible to protect their players. If all goes well, don’t be surprised to see the Chargers as one of the top seeds in the AFC playoff seeding come January 2019.