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Los Angeles Chargers 2019 season preview: Can talented Bolts reach the Super Bowl?

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Yates: Ekeler better Chargers RB if Gordon doesn't play (1:10)

Field Yates likes Austin Ekeler over Justin Jackson if you are thinking about taking a Chargers running back if Melvin Gordon doesn't play. (1:10)

The Los Angeles Chargers are ranked No. 6 in ESPN's preseason Football Power Index. Here's everything you need to know about the Chargers heading into the 2019 NFL season:


The big question: How do the Chargers replace Derwin James?

With the All-Pro safety out until at least November after undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right foot, the Chargers are tasked with replacing one of the best defensive players in the game. Veteran defensive back Adrian Phillips will try to fill the void, but it likely will be a team effort to make up for the versatility and playmaking ability James brings to the defense. The Chargers believe they have one of the best defenses in the league, so players such as Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Thomas Davis and Casey Hayward have to show leadership and make plays for the Bolts to live up to that billing. -- Eric D. Williams

Offseason in a nutshell

If Melvin Gordon's holdout continues into the regular season, the Chargers will take a running-back-by-committee approach led by Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson. Both backs were productive in spot duty last season but will be counted on to shoulder more of the load on offense, and we'll see if they are up to the task. Also, left tackle Russell Okung is likely out for the foreseeable future due to a pulmonary embolism caused by blood clots in his lungs. Replacing the Pro Bowler in the starting lineup is second-year pro Trent Scott, but the Chargers could look to add a more experienced player. Offensive line is the weak spot for a potent L.A. offense. With quarterback Philip Rivers not known for his running ability, the Chargers have to figure out how to keep their 37-year-old signal-caller upright. -- Williams

Inside the Chargers' schedule

Most important game: The Chargers travel to Kansas City, Missouri, to face the Chiefs on Dec. 29 in the regular-season finale. The Chiefs have won the AFC West three consecutive seasons and have beaten the Chargers in nine of the past 10 contests. Obtaining home-field advantage is crucial for the Chargers if they want to make a deep playoff run, and that starts with winning the division. They likely will need this victory at Arrowhead to take the AFC West for the first time since 2009.

Toughest stretch: Starting Oct. 20 at the Tennessee Titans and finishing Dec. 8 at the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Chargers will play six of seven games away from L.A. That stretch also includes a "home" game in Mexico City against the Chiefs on Nov. 18 followed by a bye week. The Bolts' lone true home game during this period is Nov. 3 against the Green Bay Packers. The Chargers finished 9-1 last season away from Los Angeles, and they will lean on that experience to get through the toughest stretch of the 2019 season.

Over or under 9.1 wins? Over. Everything went right for the Chargers in 2018, leading to a 12-4 campaign under coach Anthony Lynn, so the Chargers will be hard-pressed to duplicate that effort. However, 10 wins is a realistic expectation for the Bolts, who have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. Double-digit victories should be enough for the Chargers to make the playoffs for a second consecutive season. -- Williams

Schedule ranking: No. 19

The Chargers lose a home game to play in Mexico, but they're also one of only two teams that doesn't have to play a single opponent coming off either a bye week or a Thursday night "half-bye" week. (Detroit is the other.) The start of their schedule should be very positive, with four home games among the first six, plus trips to Detroit and Miami. -- Football Outsiders | See the full 1-32 ranking

Breakout fantasy star: WR Mike Williams

Williams' career started slowly, but the 2017 first-round pick sneaked his way to a top-35 fantasy campaign last season despite handling more than six targets in only two games. Touchdowns were the key (he scored on 10 of 66 targets), but he was also very efficient, hauling in 65% of his targets while averaging 10.1 yards (11th-best). With Tyrell Williams gone, Mike Williams is a slam dunk for a bigger role in his third pro season. He has big-time upside even with Keenan Allen in the fold. -- Mike Clay | More fantasy coverage

The view from Vegas

Super Bowl odds: 14-1 (opened 16-1)
Over/under: 10 (O +110/U -130)
Playoff odds: Yes -210, No +180

Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook as of Sept. 2.

Most interesting player prop

Over/under 91.5 receptions for Keenan Allen:

  • Williams: Under. Allen achieving the over is certainly possible based on his production the past two seasons. However, an ankle injury and sore knee slowed the Cal product during training camp, and he's played a full 16-game season twice in his first six years in the league.

  • David Bearman: Over. Allen had a combined 199 catches in his two most recent healthy seasons. Rivers' top target should have no problem approaching 100 receptions again, as long as he is on the field.

Bold prediction: Bosa will lead the NFL in sacks

The Ohio State product is coming off a disappointing 2018 season in which he missed nine games because of a bruised left foot, finishing with a career-low 5.5 sacks. However, Bosa says he's fully healed and feels more explosive, which should lead to his best season as a pro. Bosa also benefits by having one of the best pass-rushers in the league on the other side in Ingram. The two work well together as a tandem, creating mismatches up front. The addition of first-round selection Jerry Tillery as an interior pass-rusher also should help Bosa get home more often. -- Williams

Where the Chargers landed in NFLRank

Speed reads before the opener