The Los Angeles Chargers face a huge test in Baltimore. They will play the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC Wild Card game.
John Harbaugh’s team has the home-field advantage and few will give the Chargers any hope of advancing toward a divisional game.
The playoff picture is complete and the Chargers have a chance to seek redemption in Baltimore. A 12-4 record is ordinarily good enough to win any division, but the Bolts will have to be content with a fifth seed Wild Card birth after their 23-9 win over the Denver Broncos. It’s the first time a Chargers team has finished the regular season with 12 wins since 2004.
The road to January football unfolded when the Ravens (10-6) held their nerve to fend off an improving Cleveland Browns (7-8-1) team. Baltimore’s win provides them with another opportunity to beat the Bolts for the second time in as many weeks.
The AFC picture sees the 12-4 Kansas City Chiefs claiming a first-round bye after knocking off the lackluster Oakland Raiders (4-12). The Indianapolis Colts improved to 10-6 after putting the Tennessee Titans to the sword. The Colts clinched the sixth seed and will play the 11-5 Houston Texans. The margins of success and failure are fine. January football promises to be as exciting as the regular season has been.
Chargers’ offensive concerns
The Chargers’ offense stuttered in the final two weeks of the regular season. At times it’s been ugly. Ken Whisenhunt was between a rock and a hard place in Week 17 when the Chargers posted a meager 166 net yards with 13:30 left in the fourth quarter. Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon were out on the field to move the chains. An ideal situation of blowing the Broncos away by halftime had not materialized.
It seemed to take an age for the Bolts offense to find momentum in Denver, but they got rolling, posting 23 points on the board. The Ravens are the only team in 2018 to stop the Bolts’ offense from posting 20 or more points. Has Harbaugh poked the hornets nest? We shall see on Sunday.
The offensive line showed some improvements from Weeks 15 and 16, where they allowed Rivers to be sacked nine times. Rivers has thrown multiple interceptions in recent weeks, but No.17 continues to believe in his team. He spoke to the media. His glass-half-full mentality is infectious.
“It’s a heck of a challenge. I don’t think there was a team that would not be a heck of a challenge. … They’re all good. That team outplayed us last week and it will be a new game, new everything. We’ll see who can play the best this time”, via chargers.com
Mike Williams has been a standout wide receiver. The second-year pro has 10 touchdown receptions in the regular season, his Week 17 contribution came at a crucial time as he and Rivers combined to jump-start the Bolts’ offense. Williams has one rushing touchdown on the season.
Antonio Gates will look to make amends in Maryland on Sunday after his Week 16 Fumble. Gates shared his thoughts after the game.
“Baltimore is a good team. A very good football team with a good defense. We get a chance to redeem ourselves. Me personally, I get a chance because I fumbled the ball at the end. That absolutely motivates me. I always go about my business in a professional manner. To me, it was all about letting the team down more so than it was about me getting over it. And now I have that chance to help this team get a win this time”, via Chargers.com
It’s about executing, ball protection and moving the chains on third downs and playoff football can be unforgiving. The players must overturn a dip in form.
Defense wins games
It will be tough on the other side of the football. Gus Bradley’s unit has a week to review film and come up with a plan to stop the Ravens and their brutal running game.
Lamar Jackson continues to leave the pocket and carry the football downfield. Jackson finished Week 17 with 20 carries for 90 yards and two rushing touchdowns. The rookie quarterback is tearing up the playbook. Stop Jackson and the firepower keeps rolling. Kenneth Dixon had 12 carries for 117 yards and Gus Edwards finished 24 yards short of a dollar last week.
Bradley’s defense has stood tall, but they must stand taller on Sunday. Kyle Emanuel’s fumble return for a touchdown in the Week 17 win comes as no surprise. The Chargers’ defense has been making plays all season. Think back to London, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Kansas City.
Rookie Derwin James has covered every blade of turf in his inaugural NFL season. No.33 has been a constant disruption to the offense. James is becoming a fan favorite. He spoke to the media after the Broncos game, showing no signs of postseason anxiety.
“Let’s get it! Round two, let’s get it. It was a good battle, but now round two, let’s get it. This is the one that really counts”, via Chargers.com
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There’s one guy who would like nothing more than to sack Jackson on Sunday. That’s Joey Bosa. No.99 got to Case Keenum late on in Week 17 to move his total to 5.5 sacks in six games. Bosa can look forward to his first playoff game. The elite pass rusher posted a half sack the last team he squared off against Jackson.
Fight for each other
Get ready. Batten down the hatches. The Ravens and Chargers will meet up for the second time in three weeks. Regular season records are no longer relevant. The Chargers’ defense will do its best to keep Jackson, et al. off the field.
It’s down to Rivers and the offense to get off to a fast start, and show once again why Chargers football has excelled on the road. The Bolts have an opportunity to seek redemption in Baltimore.