The term "sophomore slump" is a cliché in the NFL (or any sport), but clichés are such because they are usually true. Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert had one of the great rookie seasons by any signal-caller in league history a season ago in winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Bolts appear on the rise under Herbert if he can avoid Year 2 regression. Los Angeles opens the 2021 season at the Washington Football Team with the Chargers as 1-point favorites on the William Hill Sportsbook NFL odds.
The opener is very intriguing even though both teams finished 7-9 a season ago because Herbert was the top offensive rookie and Washington's Chase Young, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 draft, was the Defensive Rookie of the Year. It marks just the second season opener on the road for the Bolts against an NFC team in the last 30 years.
If there were a 2020 redraft today, the Cincinnati Bengals probably would take Herbert No. 1 overall ahead of Joe Burrow even as good as Burrow looked before suffering a torn ACL. Young was awesome, but Washington would take Herbert at No. 2 in a redraft. Detroit took cornerback Jeff Okudah at No. 3 and would take Herbert without question. So would the New York Giants at No. 4 (Andrew Thomas) and Miami Dolphins at No. 5 (Tua Tagovailoa).
A few recent notable sophomore slumps in the NFL: Baker Mayfield was much better as a rookie in 2018 (although he didn't win OROY) than he was in Year 2. Robert Griffin III was the 2012 OROY and nowhere near the same player the next season – injuries played a big role. On the flip side, Arizona QB Kyler Murray was the 2019 OROY and better across the board in 2020.
One could argue that the Chargers haven't played in front of a home-friendly crowd since their final season in San Diego and maybe not even then since those fans were so upset the team was leaving. The team spent 2017-19 in a soccer stadium in Carson, Calif., where opposing fans usually outnumbered Chargers fans, and of course no fans were allowed last year at SoFi Stadium in L.A. They will be in 2021, but the Chargers are somewhat Little Brothers to the Rams. SoFi Stadium hosts Super Bowl 56.
Despite a stellar season from Herbert and a respectable 7-9 record last year, Coach Anthony Lynn was not brought back and replaced in somewhat of a surprise by former Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. Usually, when a team has such a gifted young QB it hires an offensive-minded head coach. Herbert's new coordinator is Joe Lombardi. He spent the past five seasons with the New Orleans Saints as the team's quarterbacks coach working with Drew Brees and in fact coached Brees for 12 total seasons in New Orleans.
One weakness on the Chargers' offense last year was the line, but that has been fortified with the signing of former Packers All-Pro center Corey Linsley in free agency and drafting of Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater at No. 13 overall. Herbert did lose excellent tight end Hunter Henry in free agency.
Los Angeles is looking at three potential outdoor cold-weather games: Week 9 at Philadelphia, Week 12 at Denver and Week 13 at Cincinnati. Five Chargers games are in the 10 a.m. Pacific time window including the opener.
The Chargers' 2021 schedule is ranked as the 17th-toughest in the league as their 17 opponents – hosting the Vikings is the 17th game -- were a combined 133-137-2 last season.
Los Angeles Chargers/William Hill Sportsbook odds
- 2020 record: 7-9 (9-7 against the spread, 9-7 Over/Under)
- 2021 strength of schedule rank: 17th (opponents' combined winning percentage of .493)
- 2021 Over/Under win total: 9.0
- SportsLine Projection Model forecasted wins: 8.7
- Odds to win Super Bowl 56: +3500
- To win AFC: +1800
- To win AFC West: +600
- To make playoffs: No -190, yes +160
- NFL MVP odds: Justin Herbert +2000
Los Angeles Chargers Schedule
Week 1 at Washington Football Team: Chargers are 4-5-1 ATS in past 10 September road games as favorites
Week 2 vs. Dallas Cowboys: L.A. is 3-6-1 ATS in past 10 September home games overall
Week 3 at Kansas City Chiefs: KC is 1-2 SU & ATS in past three home meetings
Week 4 vs. Las Vegas Raiders (MNF): Silver & Black have won past two close in Los Angeles
Week 5 vs. Cleveland Browns: Cleveland 6-1 ATS in past seven meetings but blown out in last one (2018)
Week 6 at Baltimore Ravens: First meeting since Chargers' playoff upset in Baltimore in January 2019
Week 7 BYE
Week 8 vs. New England Patriots: Chargers 4-6 ATS in past 10 out of a bye but did win & cover last year
Week 9 at Philadelphia Eagles: Philly won most recent meeting 26-24 four years ago in L.A.
Week 10 vs. Minnesota Vikings: Los Angeles is 3-7 SU & 4-6 ATS in past 10 vs. NFC North
Week 11 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (SNF): Pittsburgh was 24-17 road winner in last meeting two years ago
Week 12 at Denver Broncos: Denver has won past two very close as home underdog in series
Week 13 at Cincinnati Bengals: Tyrod Taylor was starting QB Week 1 last year as Bolts won 16-13 at Cincy
Week 14 vs. New York Giants: New York on four-game SU & ATS losing streak in series
Week 15 vs. Kansas City Chiefs (TNF): Herbert's first start was OT home loss to Chiefs Week 2 last season
Week 16 at Houston Texans: Houston is 1-6 ATS all time in series but cover came in last meeting (2019)
Week 17 vs. Denver Broncos: Under has hit in eight straight in series with Chargers as home team
Week 18 at Las Vegas Raiders: Bolts 1-0 all-time in Vegas thanks to 30-27 victory last year as short dog
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