Last season, the Los Angeles Chargers appeared to be a team on the rise.
Second-year quarterback Justin Herbert firmly established himself as an elite signal-caller, wide receiver Mike Williams continued to elevate his game, and running back Austin Ekeler led the National Football League in combined rushing and receiving touchdowns.
Yet, L.A. just barely missed out on qualifying for the playoffs due to a heartbreaking loss against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 18.
But thanks to some impact players the team has signed in recent weeks, they have to be considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender this coming season.
L.A.’s Defense Should Be Much Improved
In 2021, the Chargers could put up points with just about any team, but their downfall was their defense or lack thereof.
They ranked 29th in points allowed, and their run defense was particularly bad, as they were 29th in rushing touchdowns and 30th in rushing yards allowed.
DT Austin Johnson is expected to sign with the #Chargers
Johnson had his best season last year, registering 72 tackles, 3.5 sacks, six tackles for loss, and seven QB hits
— Brandon Carr (@bcarr_13) March 14, 2022
It will be up to head coach Brandon Staley, a former linebackers coach and defensive coordinator, to put all these pieces together along with incumbents such as Joey Bosa and Derwin James to make the Chargers into a team that consistently holds opponents down.
But as long as they stay healthy, it’s reasonable to expect them to not give up as many big plays as they have in recent years.
Justin Herbert Is Amazing
As a rookie in 2020, Herbert was very impressive, setting a rookie record for touchdown passes, but he proved in 2021 that he is here to stay for many years to come.
He threw for 5,014 yards and 38 touchdowns and ranked second in completed passes and passing yards while finishing third in touchdown passes.
Herbert also proved he is a gamer by leading five fourth-quarter comebacks and converting many third and fourth-down situations.
Yet, he still has room for improvement.
He threw 15 interceptions in 2021, and with a 2.2 percent interception rate, he is especially susceptible to committing turnovers.
He was tied for third in most interceptions thrown, as well as second in pick-sixes with three.
Still, Herbert will be one of the leading contenders for the MVP award, especially if the Chargers find a way to finish first in their division.
One Key AFC West Departure May Pave The Way For L.A.
When the Kansas City Chiefs surprisingly traded superstar wideout Tyreek Hill, it was expected that they would return to the pack a bit, and that could provide just enough of an opening for the Chargers.
Last season, L.A. defeated the Chiefs early in the season when they were struggling, but later lost to them in overtime once they found their mojo.
With the Chiefs not looking as scary as they have, and with L.A. boasting what should be a much-improved defense, they can realistically leapfrog them in the standings.
The Chargers will also now have the manpower on both sides of the football to keep up with teams such as the Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills.
The AFC West is Justin Herbert’s to lose.
— Speak For Yourself (@SFY) March 15, 2022
A championship parade down the streets of downtown Los Angeles for the Bolts next winter is something that can realistically happen.