Unpopular Opinions  

 

Unpopular Opinions: Watch out for the Chargers in the AFC West

Print

Listen, I don't try to live my life as a contrarian. That's not true -- I kind of do. I spend a lot of time in public houses and taverns, and I have a two-hour commute that allows me to hear a lot of the sports world's most popular opinions. Sometimes, I think it's best to take a look at the other side.

In this space, I'll be articulating a handful of positions that are the opposite of what most people think -- unpopular opinions, if you will -- and explain why, well, my unpopular opinions are right and everyone else is wrong. Below are my unpopular opinions for Week 7.

UNPOPULAR OPINION: The Chargers are actually the team to beat in the AFC West.

The Chargers have won consecutive games, and out here in Los Angeles ... the fans still don't care. But to our credit, the Lakers have an exciting young team led by Lonzo Ball, the Kings won four of their first five games and one of the local baseball teams is doing well, too. So it's going to take a little bit more to get the fans motivated.

Like, say, beating the Denver Broncos in one of the most hostile environments imaginable: StubHub Center in Carson, California. Yeah, opposing teams have enjoyed a bit of a mock-home-field advantage at the Chargers' temporary venue. This week will likely be among the worst so far, as the Broncos have a strong contingent of fans in Southern California. The best way for the Chargers to get fans on their side would be to win big games like this one.

The Chargers have been victimized by a little bad luck. Well, maybe a bad kicker. But they've now taken two straight one-possession games, including a walk-off at Oakland last week on Nick Novak's winner, which was an unexpected surprise. Prior to those games, the Chargers had lost the previous six one-possession games they'd been in, one of them (at home against the Dolphins in Week 2) on misses by Younghoe Koo. He also missed a kick that would have tied the game in Denver in Week 1. (Actually, he made one, but was frozen out by Broncos head coach Vance Joseph in a sneaky move I believe was made popular by former coach Mike Shanahan -- and then he had the ensuing try blocked.) Which is why they're sitting at 2-4, tied for last in the AFC West.

But with a little better fortune (or, say, just having Novak for the full season), the Chargers could be 5-1, or at least 4-2, and right on the division-leading Chiefs' heels. They still have the talent -- with players like Philip Rivers, Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry and Melvin Gordon -- to make some serious noise, provided things start breaking their way, while the Chiefs and Broncos could hit rough patches. Need more convincing? Just look back to 1992 -- when the Chargers became the only team to start 0-4 and make the playoffs (since the format change in 1990). If the Chargers are looking for a little kismet, they've got that working for them.

UNPOPULAR OPINION: Jared Goff is the best quarterback drafted in the last two years.

Jared Goff is probably never going to live down that moment from "Hard Knocks" when he didn't know where the sun rose and set. I mean, we've all been there. Like the time my family landed at O'Hare in Chicago and my sister marveled at all of the Illinois license plates in the parking lot. Sometimes, we just have moments that we'd much rather forget. Similar to how we'd like to forget that Johnny Depp was both Willy Wonka and the Mad Hatter in two miserable films.

I still feel that stigma kind of hangs over him (Goff, that is), but for my money, the second-year pro (and No. 1 overall pick in 2016) is the best quarterback drafted in the last two years. And there are a lot of celebrated quarterbacks in that group, including Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, Mitchell Trubisky (I'm jamming him in here) and Deshaun Watson. But I'm really feeling Goff in what is essentially his rookie season.

A lot of folks out here -- fine, some folks ... fine, my buddy Norm -- feel like Goff has taken a step back after posting the third-highest passer rating in the NFL during the first three weeks. OK, so his numbers dipped a bit in Weeks 5 and 6 (48.5 percent completion rate, 1:2 TD-to-INT ratio, 60.4 passer rating). But he was also playing the Seahawks and the Jaguars -- who have two of the best defensive backfields in the NFL. I noted last week that Goff did put the Rams in position to win against Seattle (thanks, Cooper Kupp), and he was equally impressive in a more muted offensive performance in Jacksonville.

Despite facing two tough opponents this season, the Rams still have the NFL's top scoring offense (29.8 points per game). Goff has thrown eight touchdown passes and just three interceptions (two of which came against the Seahawks). He certainly doesn't have the highlight plays some of the other quarterbacks have, but his performance does seem like the most sustainable. It's not like he's picked one elite receiver to target repeatedly. He doesn't have elite options. His most-targeted player is Bob Woods (whose 37 targets rank 42nd in the NFL). He spreads the ball around and finds the open person. That, to me, is more impressive than launching 50-50 balls and hoping for the best. Which is kind of what Watson gets away with in Houston. I'm not going to hate on him for going after Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins deep, but Goff doesn't always get that luxury.

Dak joined a Cowboys team that was already playoff-ready, while the Rams were being totally rebuilt when Goff arrived. And I like Carson Wentz a lot. But the Eagles QB has a physical style that could end up taking a toll on his body. I know, these are modest complaints, but it's not like you can choose all of them to be your favorite. It's not like they're your nieces and nephews. (Though I do have favorites there. That's not weird, right? Well, ranking them on a white board I update every Monday, I suppose that's weird.)

That said, Goff has struggled with the deep ball, as you can see in this chart from Next Gen Stats. Goff was excellent in passes between 10 and 20 yards, going 6 for 8. He had a pair of deep misses to Sammy Watkins. (A pass to Woods was on the money, but the receiver slipped, which caused a misconnection.) So that's something he needs to work on. Well, that and his taste in uniforms.

Actually, screw it. I'm going with Dak now.

TEAM/COACH/PLAYER IN NEED OF A PEP TALK: Atlanta Falcons.

All right, Falcons -- let's start with some real talk. Things have not gone well for you in the past nine months or so. And look, it gives me no joy to talk about the lowest point of your entire year, maybe even in your franchise history. But I have to say it right here, right now: You blew a 17-point lead to Jay Cutler. That was awful.

Oh, you thought I was going to say Collapsing against Tom Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl LI? That was, uh, not great. But at least it was against Brady, a player you can kind of have some begrudging respect for. Falling to Cutler, on the other hand? Oh, man.

But hey, I'm here to pump you guys up. So, here goes. You should know, Sunday's Falcons-Patriots matchup will mark the eighth time in NFL history that two teams from the previous Super Bowl have met in a rematch the following regular season. And in those matchups, the Super Bowl winners have gone 5-2, so you're good.

Damn it, no. Sorry. I keep doing that. But hey, here's good news: The home team has gone 5-2 in those ... wait, you're on the road, aren't you? (Looking it up ... dang.)

All right. Let me try this once again. You guys can do this. This isn't the same Patriots defense from a year ago, when they had the NFL's top scoring D. New England currently ranks 30th in points per game (26.5), last in yards allowed, yards allowed per play and passing yards allowed. The Pats are still on pace to finish with 440.7 yards allowed per game, which would be the worst mark by any team since the 1970 merger. So there you go!

You can go and win in New England (two teams have already done this in 2017). You can put this whole losing-to-Cutler business behind you. But for God's sake, if you do get a huge lead on this team, please run the football. That shouldn't be a problem, because it's one of Steve Sarkisian's hobbies, next to ruining the fantasy value of Julio Jones.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @AdamRank.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop