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LA Chargers: Where the Bolts fit in the NFL power rankings

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 01: Running back Austin Ekeler #30 of the Los Angeles Chargers leads his team onto the field before a game against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High on December 1, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Chargers 23-20. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 01: Running back Austin Ekeler #30 of the Los Angeles Chargers leads his team onto the field before a game against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High on December 1, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Chargers 23-20. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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(Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images) – LA Chargers
(Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images) – LA Chargers

2020 NFL Power Rankings: True wild card contenders (cont.)

Los Angeles Chargers. 16. 13. . .

The LA Chargers come in near the middle of the pack. Regardless of the 5-11 finish last year, this is still a team that is teetering on wild card contention.

Key players were out for long stretches of time in the LA Chargers’ dismal 2019 season. Derwin James, Adrian Phillips, Russell Okung, and Mike Pouncey all wound up on IR for a significant amount of time. It truly was an everything that can go wrong did go wrong type of season, as Philip Rivers’ level of play severely declined in addition to all the injuries.

Tyrod Taylor is the variable that everyone talks about. If he’s good, or at least at the level of a game manager, the team can finish .500 or better. If he’s bad, the team may begin to lean into Justin Herbert. Considering that Herbert is not ready for the sophisticated offense of the pro game yet, that’s truly the worst-case scenario.

Admittedly, I might have more faith in Taylor than most. He kept turnovers very low in his Buffalo tenure and used his mobility often. This is also a better offensive unit than he’s ever had, especially in terms of skill positions.

The other key variable for me in placing the LA Chargers a little higher than most have them is their offseason acquisitions. Harris is a really great slot corner to add to the defense. Bulaga and Joseph add a lot in the trenches. Joseph, in particular, is a vast improvement over Mebane.

Configuration of the offensive and defensive lines will be huge, in terms of deciding rotations. If they’re able to get more pressure from the interior of the defensive line and more protection from the outside of the offensive line, they could be a really improved team.

Do the LA Chargers return to their 12-4 2018 form? Not yet. But with the talent on the roster and improvement at critical positions, it’s pretty evident they’ll take a step up from 2019.

. . Houston Texans. 15. 10.

The Texans offseason has been widely panned, as it deserves to be. Bill O’Brien has made very questionable front office decisions as the de facto general manager. The Hopkins trade was a terrible error.

There are still things to like about the Texans going forward. As of now, they haven’t yet traded Deshaun Watson for schlock in return, and he’s a top-five quarterback in the league. J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus still lead the defense. It just feels like they now have lesser talent around Watson and just an OK supporting cast on defense. I foresee the secondary being a major problem for them.

47. . . . New England Patriots. 14

Rounding out the wild card contenders tier is New England. Tom Brady took his talents to Tampa, and that led to a lot of fans and analysts wanting to sell Patriots’ stock in 2020.

I’m not quite ready to do that just yet. Sure, Jarrett Stidham will be a huge change for an organization that pretty much had one quarterback over the last 20 years. It’s also true that the defense is what has carried New England over the last few years. They were number one in total defense in 2019 with an excellent year from Stephon Gilmore.

Also, Bill Belichick was just as much of an important part of the dynasty as Brady was. The Patriots may not be ready to contend for the Super Bowl, but they’re absolutely capable of making some playoff noise.

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