The Los Angeles Chargers did something unique last week…in a bad way. L.A. played well and had a chance to win a close game at Kansas City. Somehow, they managed to lose by 17 points.
It helps to have a great quarterback like Philip Rivers, but it hurts to be beaten in the kicking game. KC’s Harrison Butker controlled the scoreboard if not the action on the field, nailing a field goal to end the 1st quarter, and later hitting from 24 and 51 yards on back-to-back drives to turn a 17-13 lead into a commanding 23-13 advantage. Meanwhile the Chargers’ own PK, Travis Coons, couldn’t even make 2 extra points on 2 attempts. Coaches may have been scared to give Coons a chance to convert 3-pointers, as he was replaced by youngster Nick Rose this week.
Despite winning 4 in a row before marching into Missouri, the Bolts’ playoff hopes are almost dead. Needless to say, their final 2 regular-season games are must-win scenarios, beginning with a trip to visit the Jets this Sunday.
The Jets are a mathematically-eliminated, disappointed lot after losing QB Josh McCown following a brief mid-season push. But will they enjoy playing the role of spoiler at home?
Whether it’s due to L.A.’s weak kicking game, New York’s home-field advantage or another reason, Vegas odds-makers did not choose to give the still-alive Chargers more than a TD advantage.
Who: L.A. Chargers at New York Jets
When: Sunday, December 24th, 1 PM EST
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
Lines: LA (-7) at NYJ (+7) / O/U Total: (42.5)
If the Bolts are going to beat a 7-point spread, they’ll need to control the game from the outset and not give the Jets a reason to play. New Orleans had a chance to put New York away early last weekend but allowed a brief comeback before winning 31-19, as replacement Jets QB Bryce Petty played better than expected over 4 quarters.
That doesn’t mean Petty put up good numbers – the much-maligned Baylor product finished under 50%. But Gang Green ran the ball just as well as the powerful Saints, and they did it on the road. The defense contained Drew Brees fairly well without generating a pass rush, and forced 2 fumbles.
At home, a spoiler role could be welcomed after an encouraging performance. However, Petty’s current skill-set and tendencies with the Jets were put on film for the Chargers to study.
Will the Chargers have to win “High School” style, going for touchdowns only and squib-kicking the ball? Probably not – Rose looked pretty good in a brief stint with the Washington Redskins. But that doesn’t mean the Bolts are free from worry. The KC loss exposed other areas of concern on the road – Rivers was picked off 3 times, the team failed to rush for 100 yards and the defense played lousy in the 2nd half. It was a mirror image of the squad’s previous road trip to Dallas, in which they dominated the 2nd half and won 28-6.
Remember, though, game results are situational not inevitable. Melvin Gordon ran well last week, but got fewer carries as the team slipped behind. Rivers was intercepted trying to force a comeback, and the Jets don’t have the kind of pass-blocking that buoyed Alex Smith and the Chiefs in the 2nd half.
Ultimately the Bolts’ mindset will determine their performance in East Rutherford. Losing to the division-rival Chiefs was a severe blow to their postseason chances. It’s a fight-or-flight response – the team will either react like an experienced winner or a disenchanted loser.
We’re betting that the Chargers will fight. When a loss to Jacksonville dropped them to 3-6, it could have been the end. They responded with their best game of the year and beat Buffalo 54-24. L.A. has a handful of injuries to deal with, but WR Keenan Allen should play, and the most important injury on either side is still McCown. Rose should be quite an upgrade at PK for the Bolts.
Take Los Angeles to cover (-7) points.