CHARGERS (3-5) AT JACKSONVILLE (5-3)
When the Chargers have the ball
Offensive linemen are always a critical part of what a football team is trying to do, but against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the biggest guys on the field will be in the spotlight. Playing against a defense that’s capable of historic numbers — they’ve already had 10 sacks in separate games — the Chargers’ offensive line will have to be at its best to give Philip Rivers enough time to implement a game plan. That game plan should benefit from extra preparation time, too, since the Chargers were off last weekend. The Chargers can make life a lot easier on Rivers and the passing game if they can create holes up front and give Melvin Gordon space to operate. History is on Rivers’ and the offense’s side. In seven games against Jacksonville, Rivers is 6-1 and his 120.3 passer rating is exceeded only by his numbers against Houston. Still, everyone seems to agree that this Jacksonville defense is a different monster.
When the Jaguars have the ball
The Chargers will dare quarterback Blake Bortles to beat them. Ex-Jacksonville head coach and current Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley knows what the Jaguars’ strengths are, and quarterbacking is not one of them. However, this team has been able to stack up wins, thanks to a superior running attack led by rookie Leonard Fournette, a big-bodied runner with the ability to slip out of and around tackles. Getting linebacker Denzel Perryman back on the field for the first time this season will be a well-timed boost for the Chargers, though it’s unclear how much rust he’s acquired on the injured reserve. If the Chargers can slow Fournette, Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant (yep, they can use that many guys), the pass rush should be able to give Jacksonville problems ... because Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are good enough to give every team problems. And it certainly doesn’t help the Jaguars that they enter the weekend with three offensive linemen on the injury report.
When they kick
This is very much a “Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy, Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln” kind of matchup with the teams’ kickers. It began in 2015, when the Chargers brought in Josh Lambo, an undrafted rookie, to compete with incumbent kicker Nick Novak. Lambo won the job and the Chargers released Novak. Fast forward to 2017, when the Chargers brought in an undrafted rookie, Younghoe Koo, to compete with Lambo in training camp. Koo won the job and the Chargers released Lambo. He would go on to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Chargers would release Koo and sign, you guessed it, Novak. The circle of life is complete.
Dan Woike’s prediction
The promises made to myself about not picking the Chargers expired with the off week, just like all diets get shelved at Thanksgiving. Unburdened by the rules set in place earlier this season, it’s hard to overlook the injuries Jacksonville has on the offensive line, its spotty quarterback play (it’s still Bortles) and the Chargers’ week of rest and preparation advantages. A lot of factors point in the Chargers’ direction … but Fournette isn’t one of them. While Perryman’s return helps, the Chargers still haven’t shown that they can stop physical running backs such as Fournette, and the Jaguars could put the ball in his hands 30 times.
JACKSONVILLE 24, CHARGERS 21