While the LA Chargers ultimately fell short of making the playoffs in 2021, it was still a much-improved season from 2020 that saw Justin Herbert take yet another leap in the NFL with an MVP-caliber season. The Chargers have a lot of things to figure out defensively, but one thing is for sure: Justin Herbert is the real deal.
The Chargers really had no business even finishing with a 9-8 record. The Bolts had one of the hardest schedules in the entire NFL and had one of the worst defenses in the league. That is typically the recipe for a horrendous season. However, Herbert elevated this team to nine wins and was one overtime win (or tie) against the Las Vegas Raiders from making his first playoff start.
Not only was Herbert one overtime outcome away from making the playoffs with the LA Chargers, but he was two overtime outcomes away from being the league MVP instead of Aaron Rodgers.
If the Chargers would have beaten the Chiefs and Raiders in OT then Justin Herbert would have won MVP.
Should've, would've, could've. I get it. The Chargers ultimately did not get it done but it is not like the team easily lost both of those games. The Bolts absolutely could have won both of those games with some small tweaks and Herbert, even with the exact same numbers, would have been the choice over both Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.
If the Chargers win the coin toss against the Chiefs then they could have driven down the field and ended the game without giving Patrick Mahomes the ball. Yes, nothing is guaranteed, but that was a high-scoring game and the Chargers' offense was playing really well. There was a greater chance that they would have scored than not scored.
Meanwhile, if Mike Williams holds onto a one-handed grab in the endzone in overtime then the Chargers would have beaten the Raiders and made the playoffs. It was a hard catch to make, so it is not Williams' fault, but he has made difficult catches like that before and he certainly could have done it.
The Chargers would have finished with an 11-6 record if they were able to beat both the Chiefs and Raiders. While that record would not have been the best in the league, which helps with MVP awards (which is why Aaron Rodgers won it), it still would have been impressive enough for Herbert to win the award.
Herbert and the Chargers would have won the AFC West, outlasting Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. That, mixed with Herbert's numbers, would have easily been enough to propel him to the award. The MVP award is narrative-driven and Herbert turning the Chargers around, and carrying one of the worst defenses in the league to an AFC West division crown would have been the best narrative in the sport.
You could already make the case that Justin Herbert had a better season than Rodgers without those two wins. Herbert had 899 more yards and one more touchdown (would have been three more if the Chargers win those two overtime games) than Rodgers. Herbert also led the entire NFL in EPA.
You could make the case already that when we are talking about straight-up value, Herbert is the most valuable in the league. The Bolts would have been a disaster if they had an average quarterback in 2021. Justin Herbert brought them to new heights and two small changes would've helped the MVP voters see that.