Many watched in horror and confusion as Chargers coach Brandon Staley left his starters in well into the second half of a meaningless Week 18 game against the Broncos. Mike Williams and Joey Bosa left that game nicked up in advance of a wild-card matchup against the Jaguars, but it could have been a lot worse.
Jacksonville rides a five-game winning streak into this one with two wins over the Titans, an overtime win over the Cowboys and wins over the Jets and Texans, so they’re certainly stepping up in class against the 10-win Chargers. Injuries plagued the Chargers all year long, so bettors have to figure out if the current, mostly healthy, version of Los Angeles is good enough to go on the road and beat a Jaguars team that has quietly been a top-10 team most of the season by the advanced metrics.
The Jaguars rank eighth in Expected Points Added per play for the season and really took off when Travis Etienne replaced James Robinson as the feature back. Trevor Lawrence had a strong finish to the season with a 15:2 TD-INT ratio over his last nine starts. For the entire body of work, Jacksonville’s defense was also better in the EPA per play department than the Chargers, though L.A. did play in a far stronger division and had to face the Chiefs twice.
The Chargers were outgained on a per-play basis for the season, while the Jaguars were not. The Chargers also beat only one playoff team (Dolphins) during the regular season, so when they played comparable or better opponents, they failed to look the part. The Jaguars at least beat the Chargers, Ravens and Cowboys but also had some uglier losses.
Don’t read too much into the Week 3 game between these two. Justin Herbert was dealing with the painful rib cartilage injury and Keenan Allen was out. The defense was also all sorts of banged up, as Bosa played only 17% of the defensive snaps and others were absent. That being said, the Jaguars are a better version of themselves now, too, and Doug Pederson knows what he has to work with and has adapted accordingly.