These are strange times. On the one hand the Chargers should be celebrating the season that Khalil Mack is having at the age of 32. On the other, they also must acknowledge that these could be his final five games in a Chargers uniform.
Mack, who was traded to the Chargers in 2022, is having a personal renaissance that may eclipse his 2016 season; the one that he won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award while accumulating 11 sacks, 14 tackles-for-loss, 5 forced fumbles, and an interception.
Though Mack has had better individual seasons voters tend to reward players for team success and that Oakland team went 12-4 and made the playoffs. I mention that because outside of the most vocal Chargers backers you would have no idea that Khalil Mack is quietly wrecking the other side of the ball.
Mack needs 8 sacks in the Chargers five remaining games to set the single season sack record (22.5) and one of those games is against the Raiders rookie quarterback Aidan O'Connell who Mack sacked 6 times earlier this season.
When disgraced Raiders coach John Gruden traded Mack to the Chicago Bears on the eve of the 2018 season he said that he cried for three days; which must be Grudenspeak for a whiskey-fueled bender and more consecutive meals of nachos than anyone's colon should handle.
If Gruden was crying then Brandon Staley was dancing a jig. Staley was the Bears linebackers coach in 2018.
“We just trade for this guy and sign him to this huge contract, so everyone was really careful trying to see if he was O.K., like, what type of shape he’s in,” Staley told Sports Illustrated, “and I remember everyone just trying to be really cautious, and from the minute he got there, he kind of had this look in his eye that I’m ready. I would kind of have to talk to him about reps and just how we’re going to try to build you up the right way, and our head coach [Matt Nagy] at the time and our general manager [Ryan Pace] were really just doing their jobs in terms of making sure that he was going to be ramped up and ready to play."
“I remember him saying, kind of the way he does, ‘Coach, you do know my play percentage time as a player?’ He plays like 90% of the plays for his whole career. So, he’s like, ‘I’m going to be ready.’ In that first game, he was ready."
Mack had a strip sack (that he recovered) and a pick-six interception—in the first half! The Raiders went on to have the fewest sacks in the NFL that season while Mack led the Bears to the playoffs and was named First Team All Pro.
“It was just one of those years that changed my life, for sure. It changed a lot of lives, being able to team up with him every day.” Staley said.
Gruden, who signed a 10-year, $100 million contract to take over a team that had been to the playoffs once since 2003, said that the team could not afford to meet Mack's contract demands.
Which is only more hilarious when you look at the players the Raiders selected with the draft picks they netted from the trade. The aftereffects of the trade have been a referendum on Gruden’s decision-making long before he was forced out of football for his misanthropic emails leaks.
When the Bears traded Mack to the Chargers last year the Raiders fans were quick to tell us that he was washed up. Coming off of an injury-shortened season they even had stats to back up the claim. Father Time is undefeated and Mack was north of thirty. Only he never looks washed when he plays against the Silver and Black.
This week we learned that after the sudden ending to the Chargers season in a playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars Mack even considered retiring. He had only notched two sacks in the team's final 11 regular season games and was routinely double, and triple teamed by opponents who did not have to content with Joey Bosa rushing from the opposite edge.
“I didn’t feel like I affected the game the way I wanted to, or the way that I know I’m capable of,” Mack told Daniel Popper of The Athletic.
Mack isn't just ringing up sacks. His 60 pressures are top ten in the NFL amongst qualified edge rushers, according to Pro Football Focus. Oh, and he is also pivotal in sealing off the edge in the Chargers vastly improved run defense. Ask Ezekiel Elliott who Mack chased down from the backside last week before smacking him like a bowling pin for a one-yard gain.
Though the Chargers have failed to meet their own expectations this season, two of their oldest players are having career years; an outcome no one expected. Khalil Mack was not a preseason punchline for podcasters like Keenan Allen was.
"Keenan Allen's hamstrings are made of dried up rubber bands now." -Mina Kimes
The Allen slander didn't just come from the pundits. It came from within the Chargers fanbase. Frustrated by a hamstring injury that sidelined Allen for over seven games last year the discourse online was unforgiving. Fans who gave up on him wondered openly if he had anything left to contribute.
Drafted ten years ago in the third round out of the University of California, Berkeley, Allen was the eighth receiver chosen. But at 31-years old if Allen has lost a step you would never know it from his production. Allen currently leads the NFL in targets (138) and catches (102). His 1175 receiving yards trail only the Dolphins Tyreek Hill and the Cowboys CeeDee Lamb.
Speed was never really Allen's forte anyway.
The former Cal wide receiver was clocked by NFL Network at 4.71 and 4.75 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Allen's pro day confirming that blazing speed and route running are not synonymous.
Cordarrelle Patterson (Minnesota), Tavon Austin (Saint Louis), Robert Woods (Buffalo), Justin Hunter (Tennessee), Aaron Dobson (New England), and Terrance Williams (Dallas) all came off the board before Allen did at number 76. Every single one of those teams would take Allen in a heartbeat if given another chance.
Allen passed ten thousand yards for his career last month making an acrobatic catch on a Justin Herbert pass thrown to his opposite shoulder.
He has not slowed down since. The following week against Detroit he caught 11 passes for 175 yards and 2 touchdowns. At his current rate of favoritism he might be targeted by Justin Herbert 200 times if both men stay healthy.
If that happens then Allen might challenge the single season receptions record Michael Thomas set in 2019 (149). Allen would need to average 10 catches a game for that to happen which sounds outrageous until you factor in that Herbert is targeting him 11.5 times a game on average.
The people who question his ablility now are asking a different question: If Keenan Allen continues to flambe defenders with those rubberband hammies into his thirties does he deserve a bronze bust in Canton, Ohio?
Broncos vs. Chargers Predictions
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Bolt Bros Podcast
Kyle Sawyer (Season Record 7-5)
The "Broracle" reads the runes!
DAGAZ. We have seen some positive developments in the Chargers as of late and there are some stirrings that may catapult us to the playoffs. Yes, that’s right we need to keep our eyes on the prize!
GEBO. There is an opportunity that lies ahead of us and the Pittsburgh Steelers loss to New England on Thursday night was an early Christmas gift. We need to seize this opportunity for us to have any chance.
HAGALAZ. Either way our future depends on ourselves and what we can do. If the team really wants this, they have to win and unfortunately, so do the Broncos. This game will not be easy and it will be hard fought. 21-20 Chargers.
Chargers 21 - Broncos 20
Rivers Lake Yacht Club
Señor Snappy (Season Record 4-5)
Let’s ride! The Chargers typically split their in-season series against their division opponents (that is, when things are going well) and home field advantage is plausible this week.
For many technical reasons, this is a winnable game for the home team—but sometimes it’s better to not overthink it. History is on our side this specific week.
Chargers 21 - Broncos 17
Kea Humilde (Season Record 6-6)
It seems like the hype-train coming out of Denver seems to be losing steam, possibly even on the brink of derailing. After losing 22-17 to the impressive rookie, CJ Stroud, the passengers are getting off at different stops.
The Chargers, reliant on Dicker the Kicker for points against the Patriots, need to diversify their offense for smoother tracks. Meanwhile, the Broncos, reeling from a loss to CJ Stroud's team, are struggling to keep fans on board.
This Sunday, it's a clash of locomotives—Chargers aiming to broaden their playbook and Broncos seeking to reignite their engine. The game hinges on who can fine-tune their strategy, navigate the tracks, and exploit their opponent's weaknesses. It's a pivotal junction for both teams, each vying to steer their locomotive to victory on this thrilling gridiron railroad.
Chargers 17 - Broncos 14
Mark White (Season Record 8-4)
For anyone who had difficulty imagining that Russell Wilson's turnover luck would continue as it had during Denver's five game winning streak, his three interceptions thrown to the Texans last Sunday must have gone down like a cup of hot cocoa.
Tis the season for confirming of priors. Speaking of, how do the Chargers prepare for Joe Lombardi and his litany of short passes?
Their coordinator Kellen Moore has not exactly set the world on fire with essentially the same personnel. One could even argue that Moore's offense has not weathered the injury storm that Lombardi did last season (Justin Herbert's ribs, Rashawn Slaters bicep, Keenan Allen's hamstring, Mike Williams ankle, etc.) while scoring as many points per game (23) as the current team (22.9).
Look for Patrick Surtain II to lock up Keenan Allen and for Herbert to have a long afternoon hoping that his other receivers can shake off their recent bout of the drops.
Broncos 19 - Chargers 17
The Greek Uncles in Chicago
Abram Sexson and Panos Mamalis (Season Record 5-7)
Cousin Kostas will never live down New Years Day of 1984. It seems that fateful day still looms like a solitary nimbostratus idling over his life.
As a proud young father, his wife Maria and son Nikos bounded briskly over the cobblestone streets of Papingo from Staint Apostle church to his recently inherited stone house; the one with the “hagiati” his great grandfather built of limestone, slate and beechwood.
He carefully clutched the pomegranate he had picked the day before from Voula’s tree, the same one he had Father George bless just 20 minutes prior. In one fell swoop he stepped across the threshold and hurtled that prized pomegranate to the floor eager to receive the abundance, fertility and health its scattered ruby seeds would endow.
Except it didn’t break. Awkwardly it banked off the angled threshold slab, careened back and hit his 3-year-old in the left eye.
Niko's eye was never the same.
It’s make or break day for the Bolts and Broncos. Someone is leaving Sofi somber and forlorn; playoff hopes broken and beaten. Cousin Kostas’ zeal will be mocked and flipped on its head, punishing town, team and football family alike.
“To tell if a goat is good, look to his underside,” Pappou would say. “Flip it to know it.” On their recent five game win streak the Broncos have had a 14-3 turnover edge, causing eight lost fumbles in that stretch. This has made a defense with holes like Stavro's underwear look as tight as his red Speedo trying to hold it all in on an August beach day.
The Stallions allowed 175 and 192 rush yards respectively against the Vikings and Bills. Will Brandon Staley flip the script, wind up Joshua Kelley and pound the rock against a leaky run defense? Will the Chargers hold onto the ball and win the turnover margin against an opportunistic D? The Bolts are 5-1 when they win the turnover tabulation.
With the season on the line can they summon enough moxie to ride their defensive momentum, jam the run, render Russell Wilson's play-action ineffective, keep 3rd-down defensive penalties at bay, throw Michael Davis back in the fray and collectively limit Courtland Sutton? Can Keenan Allen go Niko Collins on Pat Surtain?
These are the questions this game will ask. The Broncos haven’t won at Sofi in 4 tries. 3 Ls vs. the Bolts and one vs the Rams. Not much we’ve seen this year (hell, almost ever) bodes well for the Bolts in do or die, make or break moments where they have to own their destiny, smash the pomegranate and lock up the W.
Like cousin Kosta, the Chargers luck won't change. The pomegranate bounces off an offensive lineman's helmet and hits Herbert in the eye. It's the kind of season-killing loss that leads to changes in the front office and head coaching positions in the offseason.
Broncos 21 - Chargers 20
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