Red-hot Chargers look to continue unlikely playoff push
The season started about as most expected for the Los Angeles Chargers. After bouncing around all offseason from minicamps in their old home in San Diego to training camp in Costa Mesa to a new home field in Carson, how could they be expected to contend? And then the team without a home became the team without a win for the first month of the season.
But three of those four losses were by three, two and two points. Since then, the Chargers have won six of eight, with the only losses coming at New England (in a game that ended on an unsuccessful Hail Mary) and at Jacksonville (in overtime). Los Angeles is tied for the AFC West lead with Kansas City and Oakland at 6-6 and one game out of a wild-card spot. With a trip to face the Chiefs next week and the season finale against the Raiders, the Chargers unexpectedly control their playoff destiny.
But they can’t get caught looking past this week against Washington. Granted, the Redskins are reeling, having lost five of seven since a 3-2 start, and they have been hit hard by injuries. But Washington has already travelled to the West Coast and beaten the 9-3 Rams and 7-4 Seahawks this season.
Washington at Los Angeles
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 10 at 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Chargers -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Chargers' pass rush vs. Redskins' beat-up offensive line
Los Angeles ranks fourth in the NFL in sacks with 35. Washington has allowed 35 sacks of Kirk Cousins (above, right) this season, by far the most in his three seasons as a starter — and there are four games left. Injuries have played a big part in that: four Redskins offensive linemen are already on injured reserve, and five of the team’s active blockers appeared on last week’s injury report. Veteran left tackle Trent Williams, who has missed four games but played though a knee injury last week, is questionable, as is fellow tackle Morgan Moses, who left last week’s game with an ankle injury. All this must have Joey Bosa (11.5 sacks) and Melvin Ingram (8.5) licking their chops.
2. It’s a clichÃ©, but turnovers matter
The Chargers are 6-1 this season when they win the turnover battle, 0-5 when they don’t. They have not given the ball away during their current three-game winning streak, and they have 19 takeaways in their last eight games since nabbing only two during that 0-4 start. Philip Rivers, who had led the NFL in interceptions thrown in two of the last three seasons, has only seven this year. Meanwhile, the Redskins' leaky offensive line may lead to more mistakes from Cousins and company. After throwing just five interceptions through 10 games, he has thrown three in the last two weeks while being sacked 10 times. On the season, he has also fumbled an NFL-high 12 times.
3. Keenan Allen vs. Josh Norman
Norman, the Redskins' brash cornerback, has never been one to back down from a challenge; his battles with Giants star Odell Beckham Jr. are well documented. He faces another challenge this week in Allen, who is as hot as a receiver can be right now. Allen has three straight games of at least 10 catches and 100 yards, and he has scored at least once in each of those games. All total, he has already matched his career-high with 77 catches, and his 1,032 yards are just 14 off his career mark set as a rookie in 2013. He ranks second in the NFL in catches and third in yards. Can Norman and the Redskins shut him down? While they rank in the top half of the NFL in pass defense, it has been a roller coaster; since getting torched by the Vikings (304 yards passing) and Saints (375), Washington has bounced back to allow less than 100 yards passing each to the Giants and Cowboys.
The record says the Chargers are a streaky team, but they have actually been consistently good and could easily be 9-3 or 10-2 with some breaks. Meanwhile, Washington looked beat up and out of gas last Thursday against Dallas. Perhaps the long week and another visit to the West Coast will revive the Redskins, but it’s unlikely.