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The Los Angeles Chargers are a very good football team. Even with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams absent for parts of the season, JC Jackson’s demise, and Jerry Tiller’s abysmal play on the D-line – thankfully it just got canceled – the Chargers have bumped their way to a 5 -3- record and are halfway through the season in the division title.
This weekend in SoCal, the Bolts play the San Francisco 49ers in what looks like a fun matchup between two low-end Super Bowl contenders. In reality, however, San Francisco really needs to clean up with LA. Not because the Chargers’ record is better than their actual performance, but because the 49ers are a phenomenal match.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room, the factor everyone is talking about – the Chargers’ run defense. It’s no secret that Los Angeles is about as good at stopping the run as the NFL is at roughing up the passerby. Khalil Mack’s offseason addition should mitigate that issue as Mack has been one of the best full-backs against the run for many years. He was good, but the rest of the D-line underperformed, and those struggles were compounded by the absence of All-Pro pass rusher Joey Bosa. The Chargers allow the most yards per rush of any team in the NFL (5.7). They are second in the NFL in the EPA, which also allows rush play, ahead of only the Cleveland Browns in that division.
Well, the Niners weren’t an elite rushing team this year. In fact, they underperformed in both EPA and total yards, but make no mistake, the 49ers’ identity is a run-heavy team, and with Christian McCaffrey heading into his third game with the team, San Fran’s rushing attack could be too be a lot for the Chargers even with Trent Williams attacked from the left.
Well, the 49ers’ secondary school is a little suspect. While many of the Niners’ supporters expected cornerback Jason Verrett to return soon, he instead suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in practice this week. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert should have an easy time dissecting this battered secondary, but with both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams missing this game, it could come down to Joshua Palmer, DeAndre Carter and Gerald Everett carrying the LA passing offense . I don’t trust any of them to cause serious harm.
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The Chargers’ stormy attack was no better. While Austin Ekeler is one of the best defenders in the league, he wasn’t very efficient as a ball carrier. Rather, he did most of his damage through the air. However, San Fran linebacker Fred Warner is one of the best in the NFL at following the ball out of the backfield and making open-field tackles. Ekeler could be used heavily in this game, but I wouldn’t expect him to go very far very often. Could he stop a game or two for big wins/touchdowns? Sure, but the 49ers are one of the best teams in the NFL when it comes to defending games from the backfield.
According to OddsChecker US, bettors disagree with my assessment. Despite the shift in betting lines in favor of the 49ers during the week – from +5.5 at the start to +7 today – 65 percent of money line bets were in favor of Los Angeles. This is the first time since Week 3 of 2021 against Kansas City that the Chargers have been a touchdown underdog or worse. Perhaps it’s this solid track record that is pushing bettors to the bolts. Or maybe it’s the Chargers’ dominance of the 49ers in the 21st century. LA has won four of their last five against San Francisco. However, past results are not indicative of future results. Brandon Staley wasn’t even the Chargers’ head coach the last time these two teams played.
With an emphasis on short passes, power runs, and efficiency from the backfield, the 49ers are arguably the worst team the Chargers could face all year. Could they win? Absolutely. This is the NFL, and anyone can win on any day. Also, I’ll never be 100% sure about a bet against Justin Herbert, but by any measure San Fran should win this game. While bettors seem confident that seven points is too much for the Chargers to lose, I almost believe a double-digit loss isn’t out of the question. Then again, the 49ers have a knack for losing games they shouldn’t — just ask the Bears and Falcons — so maybe I’m reading too much into that. I doubt it though.