There is playoff football in Duval County on Saturday night. Not many fans or pundits expected to hear that phrase two or three months ago.
Our conversation is below.
1. The Chargers finished 10-7 after losing the Week 18 matchup to the Denver Broncos. Now that the full regular season is complete, what would you say are the strengths for Los Angeles? What are the weaknesses or areas you think the Jaguars can take advantage of?
Michael: For strengths, head coach Brandon Staley has been in his bag as a defensive play-caller over the second half of the season. He’s been pushing all the right buttons to put his players in the best position to find success on the field and it’s been amazing to watch as he’s weathered a number of injuries to the defensive side of the ball. The Jaguars game should be the first game since Week Two where both Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa could start and finish a game healthy and at 100 percent (or close to it). If the defense can capitalize on that pair in this game, they could take that side of the ball to another level.
We obviously can’t make a list of strengths for the Chargers without talking about Justin Herbert. I mean, he’s arguably the sole reason this team is in the playoffs and I dare you to imagine what this team would have looked like this year without him. It’s not a pretty sight. The Chargers became the second team in NFL history this year to have six players record at least 500 yards receiving in the same season. That speaks volumes to not only surviving through offensive injuries, but also Herbert’s ability to find success with anybody they’re forced to trot out there. With over 4,700 yards passing this year, Herbert ranks second on the year to only Patrick Mahomes.
For weaknesses, the Chargers have never been a better team while also having this dark cloud over their heads that makes fans feel at any given moment that they could backslide into the same franchise we’ve come to know that can’t ever consistently meet expectations.
Take the Week Three matchup between these teams for example. Even after Joey Bosa and Rashawn Slater went down, this team still had enough talent and ability to simply NOT lose 38-10 inside their own stadium, but they went on to be out-coached by Doug Pederson anyway. It was a similar situation in Week Seven against the Seattle Seahawks, as well. They were beat by double-digits at home once again by a (little bit better) score of 37-23 against a very experienced coach in Pete Carroll. This simply cannot happen again or it will further the discourse that Brandon Staley just isn’t quite ready to be a head coach in this league.
2. Back in Week Three, the Jaguars dominated the Chargers 38-10 at SoFi Stadium. What went so wrong for L.A. in that game and what does the team need to do differently this time around to advance further into the playoffs?
Michael: I touched on this a bit in the first question but it warrants repeating. Brandon Staley and his defense looked squarely out-coached by Doug Pederson, regardless of the injuries to Bosa and Slater and how that may have affected the rest of the team. It also didn’t help that the Chargers ran just six plays in the first quarter and their first play of the second half was an interception that bounced off the hands of running back Sony Michel inside their own 20-yard line. Oh, and did I mention Justin Herbert was stripped on the very next possession? Momentum throughout that first half could not have shifted any harder toward the Jaguars.
So what do the Chargers need to do to keep from a repeat performance? Simply put: their jobs. Move the ball on offense out of the gate. Don’t turn the ball over. Stay healthy! All of these would go a long way in helping them win on Saturday night.
3. From an outside perspective, did you expect the Jaguars to be a playoff team or win the AFC South after handily beating the Chargers in September? What do you make of this Jacksonville team and do you feel the Jaguars are a true contender in the postseason?
Michael: After beating the Chargers the way they did, I fully expected the Jaguars to make it to the postseason. Seeing how bad the Colts and Texans were the following weeks, it seemed like a foregone conclusion at the time. But then the Jags also took a bit of a downward fall through the middle portions of the schedule before regaining their footing and punching their ticket with a Week 18 win over the Tennessee Titans. It was certainly one of the more impressive storylines of the season and I’m glad to see things turn around so quickly after last year’s Urban Meyer-led clown show.
So final answer: yes. I believe this Jaguars team is a legitimate contender and they couldn’t be peaking at a better time.
4. Which quarterback do you see having the better long-term career and why: Justin Herbert or Trevor Lawrence?
Michael: Trying to be very unbiased here, I have to go with Justin Herbert. That is, as long as they figure out the issues with offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. Everyone and their mother knows that he hasn’t been the best fit for a quarterback with a rocket launcher strapped to his shoulder and the Chargers would be wise, no matter how deep their playoff run goes, to either replace him or blowup the philosophy he’s been hellbent on running. But if Lombardi stays in Los Angeles for years to come, I can’t help but believe Lawrence would have the better career in terms of playoffs, potential Super Bowls, etc. as long a he’s able to stick around with a coach like Pederson.
5. According to the DraftKings Sportsbook, the Chargers are 2.5-point favorites and the over/under is set at 47.5. Are you taking the over or under, what is your final score prediction and why?
Michael: In a game between these two quarterbacks, I can’t help but feel compelled to take the over. Give me all the points. It would be one heck of a playoff game to see these two match throw-for-throw for a chance to win their first postseason game.
The Chargers showed a lot of grit and fight in their ability to weather the storm of injuries and make it to the playoffs, on top of winning more games than they did a season ago. It’s that edge that makes me believe they’ll be able to win on the road against the Jags.
However, it won’t come without a ton of suspense as I predict this game score to end somewhere around 30-27. I think if the Chargers play a much cleaner game this time around, they’ll be able to exploit the Jacksonville defense that’s ranked 28th in points allowed per game.