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The Brandt Report

Chargers, Lions better than their records; Bills, Rams are worse

A team's record is usually a reliable indicator of quality -- usually.

Sometimes, through quirks of fate and random spurts of luck both good and bad, a team that is actually good will wind up with more losses than wins, or a team that is actually seriously flawed will somehow win more games than it loses.

As Week 10 of the 2019 NFL season approaches, I thought I'd identify a pair of losing teams that are better than their record suggests -- and two winning teams that are not as strong as they might appear.


Los Angeles Chargers (4-5)

The Chargers already have more losses than last year's 12-4 squad, which reached the Divisional Round of the playoffs before being dismantled by the Patriots. An inability to win close games has haunted this team in 2019, with Los Angeles losing five of seven matchups decided by 7 points or less. Yes, that includes the infamous and disastrous Week 7 loss to the Titans, in which the Chargers failed to score on three chances from the Tennessee 1 in the final 39 seconds, culminating in a Melvin Gordon fumble at the goal line. Injuries have cost this team the services of safety Derwin James and ravaged the offensive line, with Forrest Lamp and Mike Pouncey hitting injured reserve and Russell Okung missing the first seven games of the season. Gordon, meanwhile, needed time to shake off the rust after missing four games due to a futile contract holdout.

Week 9's dominant 26-11 win over a red-hot Green Bay Packers team shows L.A. might be getting ready to make a second-half playoff push. Coach Anthony Lynn got what he wanted after replacing fired offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt with Shane Steichen, with the Bolts reestablishing their ground game (159 yards on 38 attempts, with two touchdowns by Gordon). The defense (ranked eighth overall and in points allowed heading into Week 10) has done its part, and that unit will get even better if James can return from IR by the end of the season or the playoffs. The Chargers are also in the desired position of being able to make hay in the AFC West, with four of their seven remaining games coming against Kansas City and Oakland, starting with the Raiderson *Thursday Night Football* this week.

Detroit Lions (3-4-1)

If not for two controversial hands-to-the-face penalties called on Trey Flowers in a narrow Week 6 loss to Green Bay, the Lions could be 4-3-1 right now. Of course, if any of Detroit's three close losses had gone the other way, or if they hadn't squandered a double-digit lead against the Cardinals in their Week 1 tie, this team could be sitting pretty rather than reaching the midpoint of a second straight season with a sub-.500 record.

Sure, this team has its flaws, including a surprisingly bad defense (31st overall, 27th in scoring) and a 21st-ranked running game that has foundered without injured back Kerryon Johnson. But if the Lions get as hot as their quarterback, watch out. Matthew Stafford is playing as well as he ever has, tying a franchise record by posting three straight games with 300-plus passing yards, two-plus passing touchdowns and a passer rating of 110 or better. They'll get another shot at each of the two NFC North teams ahead of them (Green Bay and Minnesota), while the rest of their remaining opponents -- aside from the Cowboys -- are below .500.


Buffalo Bills (6-2)

Only five teams -- the 8-0 49ers, 8-1 Patriots, 7-1 Saints, 7-2 Packers and 7-2 Seahawks -- have a better record than the Bills, but it's hard to mention this group in the same breath as them, because Buffalo's schedule to date has proven so soft. The Bills have only faced two teams who are currently above .500, and they lost to both (the Patriotsin Week 4 and the Eaglesin Week 8), while the combined record of their six vanquished opponents sits at 9-42. They're in great shape to earn a playoff berth, seeing as how 80.8 percent of teams to start 6-2 since 1990 have reached the postseason, and it'll be a notable accomplishment for a franchise that has been to the playoffs just once since 1999. But with an offense that is averaging just 336 yards (23rd) and 19.8 points (22nd) per game, this has all the earmarks of being a one-and-done postseason squad.

The big question in both the short and long term for Buffalo is whether or not Josh Allen can develop into a bona fide franchise quarterback. There is no question that Allen is better than he was as a rookie in 2018, but he still ranks toward the bottom in a variety of key statistical categories, including completion percentage (60.9, 27th), yards per attempt (6.8, 24th), quarterback rating (82.9, 26th) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (10:7, 25th).

Los Angeles Rams (5-3)

The latest victim of the notorious Super Bowl hangover is not performing nearly as well as last year's squad. Through eight games in 2018, the Rams were 8-0, putting up 33 points and 442.6 yards per game. This year, those numbers have dropped to 26.8 points and 384.5 yards per game. It's as if they're still trying to work their way out of a tailspin that began with the 13-3 loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.

L.A. is facing issues at multiple spots on the roster. The O-line is dealing with injury and inconsistency after a year of incredible stability. Running back Todd Gurley, who was hampered by a knee issue last season, is clearly not the All-Pro caliber player he's been, dropping from 5.8 yards per touch to 4.1 in '19, with just seven touchdowns this season after racking up 15 total scores through eight games last year. And quarterback Jared Goff's performance has declined (his passer rating fell from 101.1 in '18 to 86.8 this season, and he's already thrown seven picks after finishing last season with 12 total), even as he's on pace for a career-high 628 pass attempts. Coach Sean McVay must find a consistent counter to teams that have done a better job defending his attack out of 11 personnel (perhaps two-tight end sets could be part of the solution). There's also been a notable drop-off on defense, so much so that the team conducted a mini-midseason makeover, trading away Marcus Peters and bringing in Jalen Ramsey. Aaron Donald is still a force, but he's sacking quarterbacks at half the clip he did in 2018, with the rest of the pass rush struggling in the absence of the injured Clay Matthews, whose return should help.

And there's something else: The NFC West is far better than it was last season, with the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks already having claimed victories over the Rams, giving a win or else sense of urgency to the upcoming rematches with both teams. If they don't pull it together soon, the Rams will be in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in the McVay era.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter _@GilBrandt_.

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