Los Angeles Chargers 2020 season preview: Start of a new era at quarterback

ByESPN Staff ESPN logo
Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Los Angeles Chargers are ranked No. 20 in ESPN's Football Power Index ahead of the 2020 NFL season. With no preseason games this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, Week 1 is the first time we'll see new acquisitions and rookies for every team. Week 1 will also give us the first NFL games since Super Bowl LIV in February.

Here's everything you need to know about the Chargers heading into the season, from the big question to answer and the toughest stretch on their schedule, to a bold prediction and potential breakout fantasy football stars.

Full schedule | Roster | Depth chart

The big question: What type of production will the Chargers get from QB position?

Philip Rivers had anchored that spot for the past 14 years. Now someone new will be taking snaps from under center, presenting a major variable for a team that has its sights set on contention. Barring a surprise, Rivers' replacement initially will be Tyrod Taylor, who hasn't started an NFL game since Week 3 of the 2018 season. Is he still capable of leading a playoff team? -- Alden Gonzalez

How the pandemic has most affected the Chargers

This year's "Hard Knocks" began with a clear sign of just how different this all is -- Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn revealed he contracted the coronavirus in a video conference with his players, telling them: "I've heard people tell me they're sick of this virus. What the hell is that supposed to mean? Let me tell you something -- you ain't promised next year. You ain't promised tomorrow." On a lighter note, the show also aired a funny clip of Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. being very apprehensive about a routine nasal swab test. From a football standpoint, the lack of a traditional offseason program has undoubtedly slowed Justin Herbert's grasp of the offense and will probably play a part in delaying the first-round pick's debut as the starting quarterback. -- Gonzalez

Football Power Index projections for the Chargers

Overall ranking: 20

Offensive ranking: 20

Defensive ranking: 12

Special teams ranking: 28

Total wins: 7.7

AFC West title chances: 7.7%

Chances to make playoffs: 34.4%

Super Bowl chances: 0.6%

2021 draft pick: No. 11

Inside the Chargers' schedule

FPI's strength of schedule rank: 16

Toughest stretch: The Chargers will be tested early. Their first home game in Week 2 will come against division rival and reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. After a Week 3 matchup against the Carolina Panthers, they'll travel to the opposite coast to play a rejuvenated Tampa Bay Buccaneers team and then head to New Orleans to battle the Saints. That game marks the beginning of a stretch that will see the Chargers travel in the neighborhood of 7,500 miles for three games.

Over or under 7.7 wins?Over. Even without Derwin James, the Chargers' defense -- with a deeper linebacking core, more strength in the interior and a secondary that still looks solid -- should be much better at generating turnovers and might ultimately prove to be one of the NFL's strongest units. Their offense might miss Rivers and Melvin Gordon but will benefit from a better offensive line, particularly on the right side. If they avoid further injuries to key players and come out on the other side of more close games, this might be a playoff team. -- Gonzalez

Bold prediction for 2020: The Chargers will finish among the NFL's five best rushing teams

Doesn't sound bold? We're talking about a team that ranked 28th in rushing yards per game last season, then lost one of the greatest running backs in franchise history. No one man can truly replace Gordon, but the combination of Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson will produce, Taylor will give the Chargers rushing ability out of the quarterback position that they haven't had in, well, a really long time, and here's the kicker: That offensive line will greatly benefit from a healthy Mike Pouncey at center and the additions of Trai Turner and Bryan Bulaga on the right side. -- Gonzalez

Breakout fantasy star: Justin Jackson, RB

Melvin Gordon is out in Los Angeles, which opens the door for 2018 seventh-round pick Jackson to finally emerge into a consistent role alongside undersized Austin Ekeler. Jackson will need to fend off fourth-round rookieJoshua Kelley, but if he does, Jackson shouldn't struggle to push for 10-to-12 touches and primary goal-line duties most weeks. Jackson, who is averaging 5.1 YPC on 79 career carries, is a strong late-round flier. -- Mike Clay

ADP for the top players:

The view from Vegas

Super Bowl odds:45-1 (opened 45-1)


Playoff odds:Yes +160, No -180

After winning 9 and 12 games in Anthony Lynn's first two seasons, the Chargers fell to 5-11 last year. Their win total sits at 8 this year after being double digits each of the past two seasons. The Chargers were tied with the Bears for least amount of covers last year, covering only four times in 16 games. -- ESPN Chalk

Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill as of Sept. 1.

Where the Chargers landed in NFL Rank

Speed reads before Week 1

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