As the season kicks off, every die-hard football fan has one thing in common: the profuse need to tell anyone they talk to "it's finally their year". Although some fanbasses are much more vocal about their misguided confidence (looking at you, Cowboys fans), every fan wants to truly believe they really could win it all.
But unfortunately for 31 teams and fanbases, the reality is you end up watching someone else celebrate a Super Bowl, desperately wishing you could be experiencing that feeling.
This year, the oddsmakers at Vegas overwhelmingly believe the Buffalo Bills will be the team standing on top of the mountain, with their swords held high, looking down at all the other teams who failed to reach those heights.
At the start of the season, the DraftKings odds for the Buffalo Bills to win the Super Bowl were +550, which makes them the biggest favorites, followed by the Buccaneers at +700, the Chiefs and Packers at +1000, and the defending super bowl champ Rams at +1200. However, Vegas is often wrong regarding the preseason Super Bowl odds, with the preseason favorites only winning the super bowl six times.
The team that should be the Super Bowl favorites, the Los Angeles Chargers, saw themselves outside the top-five best odds at the start of the season. Let's look at why LA's forgotten team is underrated.
Understanding the Chargers' Situation
Last season ended in heartbreak for the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Chargers almost tied the Raiders to sneak into the playoffs, but instead got their Super Bowl dreams shattered by a last minute field goal. It will go down as one of the craziest endings to a season in NFL history. This year, they hope to avoid needing a Week 18 miracle, and their offseason acquisitions make that very likely.
Throughout the 2021 NFL season, the Chargers were an absolute powerhouse on the offensive side of the ball, finishing top 5 in both yards per game and points per game. The Chargers will need to replicate the offensive success they had last season In order to win in their tough division, which well-respected NFL writer Peter King claims "is the toughest division I remember since the NFL went to eight four-team divisions in 2002".
King's opinion on the AFC West is not without reason as the Raiders signed two-time All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams to reunite him with his college quarterback, Derek Carr. The Broncos offense also had a major upgrade when they traded for Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russel Wilson. The Broncos have not had a formidable quarterback since Peyton Manning and hope Wilson is the answer they have desperately needed. Although the Chiefs lost superstar wide receiver Tyreek Hill, they still have Patrick Mahomes running the show, which is enough to make any team a Super Bowl contender.
There is no doubt the AFC west is the best division in football this year, and that should help the Chargers more than it will hurt them. Having six games against high caliber opponents will give the Chargers the chance to get used to playing in meaningful games against some of the best teams in the league long before the playoffs start.
How the Chargers Improved in 2022
The easiest way to drastically improve in the NFL is by addressing your weaknesses, and that is exactly what the Chargers got done in the offseason. Last year, the Chargers' great offense was often let down by their struggling defense, which finished in the bottom-five for points given up per game.
As mentioned earlier, the Chargers play in a division with three offensive juggernauts, and a Swiss cheese defensive will make it near impossible to win games against them.That's why the Chargers added J.C Jackson, an elite cornerback who learned under Bill Belichick. Having Jackson play alongside promising second year corner Asante Samuel Jr. gives him more time to develop while a proven vet covers the No. 1 threat.The NFL is a passing league, and having two great corners along with Derwin James, who is arguably the best safety in the NFL, gives the Chargers a formidable secondary that should be able to limit the best of quarterbacks.
One thing that makes the secondary look even better is an elite pass rush, and the Chargers will have that this year after trading for six-time pro bowler and 2016 DPOY Khalil Mack. Pairing Mack with four-time pro bowler Joey Bosa is nightmare fuel for any quarterback. The Chargers not only addressed their defensive issues they also kept their elite offense intact by re-signing breakout wide receiver Mike Williams to a contract extension.
Now that the defense is capable of holding its own, and the offense is loaded with top talent surrounding franchise quarterback Justin Herbert, the only question remaining is does second-year head coach Brandon Staley have what it takes to get the most out of his star studded roster?
The Answer is Yes.
Staley received a lot of criticism for going for it on fourth down more than any other coach in the league during his first season. Especially after a Thursday night showdown with the Chiefs where he went for it on fourth down five times in one game.
Although Staley and the Chargers lost that epic game in overtime, the criticism might not have been warranted. A program that was created to determine if going for it on fourth down was the right call by measuring the change in added win probability determined each of Staley decisions were correct.
When asked about his aggressiveness on fourth down Staley gave this fiery quote.
"The history of this team when I got here, it was like someone's going to get hurt, they're going to blow a lead, something catastrophic is going to happen. There's this 'Chargering' thing. There's all of these external factors that I know in my life, they're just all excuses. They're just all excuses.
"And so, how do you change that? Well, you have to do things different, you have to have a different approach. ... Our mindset's going to be on us, it's not going to be on the opponent. It's going to be on us. So creating that fearless mindset of, we are going to be aggressive, we're going to put the ball in our hands, we're going to trust our guys to make plays."
This statement is a testament to Staley's belief in his team and players. He is successfully creating a culture and environment that allows the players to trust in themselves as well.
After an offseason full of personnel upgrades and more time for players to learn and buy into Staley's system, there is no reason why he can't lead the Chargers to their first ever Lombardi trophy.
An AFC West Showdown on Thursday Night
Although the Chargers defense looked great in Week 1 against the Las Vegas Raiders, they face another familiar foe in their Thursday night matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes looked as good as ever in his first game without Tyreek Hill, scoring 44 points against the Cardinals and becoming the sixth QB ever to have six games with five or more passing touchdowns.
Mahomes joins Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Dan Marino, all names you would expect to throw a lot of touchdowns. What makes this stat truly spectacular is it took each of those QB's at least 200 games to accomplish it. It only took Mahomes 64.
If the Chargers defense can slow down Mahomes on Thursday night it will prove they are one of the best units in the leagues and perfectly capable of winning football games when it counts in January and February. Luckily for the Chargers, they only have to slow down Mahomes, not shut him down completely, because they have a young Pro Bowl QB of their own who can put up points as well as any QB in the league.
Herbert's great performance in Week 1 went under the radar because of the defense's exceptional performance, or maybe because everyone is just used to him being great. The ultimate test of a great QB is being able to make unknown receivers look great, and that is exactly what Herbert had to do after his No. 1 receiver and security blanket, Keenan Allen, went down with a hamstring injury early in the game.
The primetime game against the Chiefs is an opportunity for the Chargers to put the league on notice and show why they deserve to be looked at as the best team in the league.