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Week 16 has arrived, which means that the NFL playoffs are right around the corner. The AFC playoff race is a total mess right now. None of the AFC teams have clinched a playoff spot, and there are currently 13 of 16 teams still eligible to make the playoffs.
The Los Angeles Chargers, sitting at 8-6, are right in the middle of them. Currently holding the sixth seed in the AFC, the Chargers would play a divisional-round matchup against the third seed, the New England Patriots (9-5). The Chargers, who already lost against the Patriots earlier this season, may stand a better chance in a rematch.
The Chargers travel to Houston to play the Texans this week. The Texans, with a record of 3-11, were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs several weeks ago. Even with one of the weakest strengths of schedule in the NFL (.478), the Texans only managed three wins. In a normal week, this should be an easy win for the Chargers. But could it possibly be more difficult than that? This is the Chargers-Texans preview.
COVID-19 in the NFL
COVID-19 has become a major problem in the functioning of the NFL again, much like last season. Just last week, the NFL delayed three games to help teams with severe COVID outbreaks. It’s a legitimate concern that the NFL may suspend league operations in the near future, much like the NHL and NBA did in March 2020.
The Chargers are suffering a COVID outbreak of their own. As it stands, there are 13 players on the Chargers’ reserve/COVID-19 list. This list includes stars like Austin Ekeler, Mike Williams, Joey Bosa, Jalen Guyton and Justin Jones. Without these players, the Chargers will be forced to call up players from their practice squad in order to fill roster gaps.
The Texans are going through a similar issue, with 15 of their players being on the reserve/COVID-19 list. The Texans are missing stars like receiver Brandin Cooks and offensive tackle Tytus Howard. With both teams’ rosters decimated by COVID-19, it’s up to the backups and remaining starters to step it up and try to win.
Keenan Allen vs. Desmond King II
Keenan Allen is the only starter among the starting Chargers wide receivers that is still active for Sunday. That means that the pressure is on him to produce in the passing game. Star quarterback Justin Herbert (recently named the Pro Bowl’s AFC starter) is known for throwing the ball with uncanny strength. That means that Allen is now the only receiver with in-game experience catching Herbert’s lasers. Allen’s sheer talent and experience should be enough to shoulder that responsibility. Against someone like Desmond King, he’ll certainly need it.
Desmond King is not a stranger to the Los Angeles Chargers. For the first 3-and-a-half years of his career, King was a stud cornerback for the Chargers. After the Bolts dealt him to the Titans in 2020, though, King spent half a season in Tennessee before he joined the Texans this past offseason. King’s experience guarding Allen in practices for three seasons should come in handy when guarding Allen.
Chargers’ D-Line vs. Texans’ O-Line
This matchup isn’t particularly interesting, but it could have major implications in the outcome of the game. The Chargers’ defensive line currently has only Linval Joseph and Jerry Tillery from their starting crew. Joey Bosa and Justin Jones, two key players for the Chargers, will spend the weekend on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Tillery and Joseph have been barely passable as starters, so this game will be their proving grounds. Tillery in particular has been a disappointment, especially for someone with first-round-pick expectations. If Tillery wants a chance at a second contract in 2023, he needs to prove he can be a competent interior lineman.
Meanwhile, the Texans’ offensive line is absolutely gutted. The Texans will be without their starting left tackle, left guard, and center. Losing their starting center, Justin Britt, is particularly damaging. While Britt has not been elite by any means, he’s been an above-average center compared to the rest of the league. In 547 snaps, Britt allowed only a single sack, while he committed only 4 penalties.
Losing Britt means that Tillery will face off against backup Texans center Jimmy Morrissey, a 2021 seventh-round pick with less than 200 snaps played in the NFL. If there was ever a chance for Tillery to prove his worth, the time would be now.
Summary and Prediction
The Chargers and Texans’ matchup is a microcosm for the state of the NFL right now. Many teams across the league are missing at least a dozen players to the reserve/COVID list. It truly is worrisome that at this rate, the NFL could very well shut down for an extended period of time. Regardless, for the moment, the show must go on. Every team must find a way to adjust to missing so many players.
As it stands, not only do the Chargers have fewer players missing than the Texans, but the Chargers are overall a significantly better team than the Texans. If the Chargers do not pull out a dominant win here, then their hopes for any sort of playoff success can go right out the window. That said, expect a dominant win for the Chargers against the Texans. This has been the Chargers-Texans preview.