The NFL schedule makers weren’t too kind to the Chargers in the first six weeks of the 2021 season.
First-year head coach Brandon Staley will have to prepare for four playoff teams from last season in the first six games, including East Coast trips to Washington and Baltimore. The gauntlet also includes the Kansas City Chiefs on the road and the Cleveland Browns at home.
The non-playoff teams among the Chargers’ first six games are home games against the Dallas Cowboys and Las Vegas Raiders, two teams with productive offenses that should challenge Staley’s defense.
But the Chargers have a healthy Derwin James to pair with edge rusher Joey Bosa. The two star defenders have never been healthy together for the start of a season.
With a healthy defense and Justin Herbert under center, that could be enough for the Chargers to reach their Week 7 bye week with a winning record.
Here’s a week-by-week look at how the Chargers might fare in 2021:
Sept. 12: Washington Football Team, 10 a.m., FedExField
The Chargers’ struggles on the offensive line hindered their 2020 season, but they addressed that by drafting Rashawn Slater and signing Corey Linsley. It won’t be easy against Washington’s ferocious front four, but the revamped offensive line should have a nice debut and get the Chargers started on a winning note. Win. Chargers record: 1-0
Sept. 19: Dallas Cowboys, 1:25 p.m., SoFi Stadium
Staley’s defense will likely be tested by mobile Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and his many weapons on offense. This one will probably be a shootout, but expect Herbert to prevail by operating a game-winning drive. Win. Chargers record: 2-0
Sept. 26: Kansas City Chiefs, 10 a.m., Arrowhead Stadium
Facing Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ dominant offense early in the season won’t do the Chargers’ new-look defense any favors. Mahomes will likely have a big outing at home. Loss. Chargers record: 2-1
Oct. 4: Las Vegas Raiders, 5:15 p.m., SoFi Stadium
Expect this to be a Monday night thriller and another one-score game. The home team’s cannon will blast in victory and the result will not be overturned by the officials like the last time the Raiders and Chargers met at SoFi Stadium. Win. Chargers record: 3-1
Oct. 10: Cleveland Browns, 1:05 p.m., SoFi Stadium
The Browns’ depth at many positions will likely give the Chargers fits and hand them their first home loss of the season. Loss. Chargers record: 3-2
Oct. 17: Baltimore Ravens, 10 a.m., M&T Bank Stadium
The Chargers end their tough stretch to start the season against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, but they probably won’t enter the bye week with a victory. Baltimore has a well-balanced team on both sides of the ball. Loss. Chargers record: 3-3
Oct. 31: New England Patriots, 1:05 p.m., SoFi Stadium
This will likely be a revenge game for the Chargers, who were embarrassed by the Patriots, 45-0, last season. Expect Herbert and company to return the favor this season with a dominant victory. Win. Chargers record: 4-3
Nov. 7: Philadelphia Eagles, 1:05 p.m., Lincoln Financial Field
Former Chargers offensive coordinator Shane Steichen likely won’t have his revenge against his former team. Steichen is now the offensive coordinator for the Eagles, but they have an inexperienced roster with several holes. Win. Chargers record: 5-3
Nov. 14: Minnesota Vikings, 1:05 p.m., SoFi Stadium
The Chargers tend to have at least one letdown home game every season. Look for that to happen against Dalvin Cook and the Vikings. Loss. Chargers record: 5-4
Nov. 21: Pittsburgh Steelers, 5:20 p.m., SoFi Stadium
This one could get ugly on the field and in the stands with an opponent that has a devoted road following. Former Charger Melvin Ingram will look to lead a win over his former team. Loss. Chargers record: 5-5
Nov. 28: Denver Broncos, 1:05 p.m., Empower Field at Mile High
After two sluggish games, the Chargers should turn the corner in Denver. It will likely be another down-to-the-wire game, but with the Chargers prevailing. Win. Chargers record: 6-5
Dec. 5: Cincinnati Bengals, 10 a.m., Paul Brown Stadium
Last season, the NFL didn’t get Herbert versus Joe Burrow. That will likely change here for a memorable battle between the two emerging young quarterbacks. Win. Chargers record: 7-5
Dec. 12: New York Giants, 1:05 p.m., SoFi Stadium
The winning streak will likely continue against a subpar Giants team with many holes on its roster. Win. Chargers record: 8-5
Dec. 16: Kansas City Chiefs, 5:20 p.m., SoFi Stadium
Look for the Chargers to make it a four-game winning streak with their biggest victory of the regular season. Win. Chargers record: 9-5
Dec. 26: Houston Texans, 10 a.m., NRG Stadium
Tyrod Taylor will look for revenge against the Chargers, but he doesn’t have the roster in Houston to upset his former team. The Chargers should win big here. Win. Chargers record: 10-5
Jan. 2: Denver Broncos, 1:05 p.m. SoFi Stadium
The five-game winning streak will probably come to an end against an AFC West rival at home. The Broncos could surprise many with a stacked defense. Loss. Chargers record: 10-6
Jan. 9: Las Vegas Raiders, 1:25 p.m., Allegiant Stadium
Herbert likely won’t lead a game-winning drive in Las Vegas this year. The Raiders will try to prevent the Chargers from making the postseason, but 10 wins will be enough for a wild-card slot in the AFC. Loss. Chargers record: 10-7