San Diego Chargers
Head Coach: Mike McCoy
2014 Record: 9-7
Odds to win Division: +440
Odds to win Conference: +1500
Odds to win Super Bowl: +5000
Season Wins: Over 8 (+105); Under 8 (-125)
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The term “contender” can be a funny thing to qualify, but the San Diego Chargers have to be in the conversation as long as Philip Rivers is in the saddle.
Last season the San Diego Chargers fell a victory short of making the postseason, but head coach Mike McCoy is using that as motivation to lift his team back into the postseason. San Diego’s place there is not assured, but the team has enough weapons to do some damage if it earns a berth this season.
The roster has turned over in a major way since McCoy came two seasons ago. It has just 14 players remaining from three years ago, but the team has somehow gained stability through the changes, a testament to McCoy’s coaching efforts. However, with its nucleus aging, this season in many respects has become a “make or break” year for the Chargers.
San Diego typically employs one of the more balanced offenses in the NFL, and doing so allows the unpredictability that gives rise to Rivers’ brilliance. Last season the backs were decimated by injuries, so the philosophy was forced to shift. And it was less effective in doing so. Rivers and the Chargers went from No. 5 pass offense in 2013 to No. 18 last year, as a result. He’s now back for his 10th season as the starting QB, and he has started 144 consecutive games—iron man, much?
Rivers has throw for more than 4,000 yards in six of the past seven seasons, and this year is likely to return to that benchmark. He’s not a runner, but he is good at passing on the run, and he reacts well to blitzes, something rather crucial in the NFL. Kellen Clemens is the backup, though it hardly matters with Rivers putting his body on the line every night and somehow remaining healthy through it.
The RB group added first-round draft selection Melvin Gordon and he will be used to replace Ryan Matthews. The Wisconsin product should bring instant offense to the Chargers, who have lacked a premier RB since LaDanian Tomlinson departed in 2009. Danny Woodhead ran for 1,034 yards from scrimmage last year with eight TDs, so he will receive plenty of carries too. Brandon Oliver is speedy and a good change of pace back, when the Chargers need to shake it up some.
At WR Philips has some good options to choose from: Stevie Johnson and Keenan Allen start at the wideouts with Dontrelle Inman and Jacoby Jones adding depth. TE Antonio Gates is in the twilight of his career at age 35 but still a deadly target in the red zone. Allen is hoping to regain the production of his rookie season after falling off last year.
The OL is what really needs to improve for San Diego on the offensive end of the ball. Adding free agent G Orlando Franklin and re-signing T King Dunlap makes the left side of the line rather solid, but Chris Watt needs to develop consistency this year and the center position was a revolving door last year.
RG remains the most questionable position on the line with Johnnie Troutman expected to fill the role. Jeremiah Sirles will be in the mix, too, should Troutman disappoint.
Defensively the Chargers are not really stacked anywhere, though the secondary and linebacking group is pretty good. There is some upside in the form of pass rushers, and the Chargers have two corner backs that may eventually become elite.
The unit will have to build chemistry to be effective, and last year it just could not stop the rush, allowing 124.1 yards per game (No. 26 in NFL). Keep an eye on Jason Verrett at CB though, because he could definitely come through with a breakout season.
The Chargers defense can be anywhere from mediocre to good, but it will not likely be great. The team is beaming and believing it has the chance to be an elite defense, but realists doubt that happens this season. The results of potential are not always as quick as people want it to be.
The Chargers will be in the mix as long as Rivers stays healthy, and that seems like a pure certainty. But stranger things have happened, to be sure. The defense is lacking depth, but if it stays healthy it will be competent enough to keep points off the board and give Rivers a chance to win the Chargers games.
Even so, due to those defensive shortcomings we are going to go with a .500 season for San Diego, which will likely signal the deconstruction of this aging core.
Prediction: 8 wins