After a surprising, albeit exciting, playoff appearance last year, are the Chargers poised for another run at the playoffs? I’m going to go through the daunting schedule and take a look at some matchups that could potentially give the Bolts some trouble.
First, the Chargers open the preseason with the Dallas Cowboys, and play three preseason games against regular season opponents (Seattle, Arizona, and San Francisco).
Week 1 @Arizona: San Diego’s toughness will be tested from Week 1. Arizona showed a lot of improvement last year with strong quarterback play from Carson Palmer and a much improved defense. If the Chargers can control the time of possession and limit turnovers I don’t see them losing this game.
Week 2 SEATTLE: The most exciting, and probably the toughest, game on our schedule happens to be against the defending Super bowl champs. This early matchup offers a barometer-setting home game for Bolts fans. Although this game is at home, Philip Rivers would have to play close perfect for the Bolts to come out with a win. The league’s toughest defense will prove to be too much for the Bolts to handle in Week 2.
Week 3 @Buffalo: Buffalo should be an easy win for the Bolts, but we have seen let downs when San Diego travels east for a 1:00 PM EST kickoff. Luckily, weather should not be much of a factor for a late September game, which takes away one of Buffalo’s biggest weapons. As long as the Bolts can slow down CJ Spiller and Sammy Watkins, then a victory won’t be in doubt. I expect San Diego to steamroll to a victory in Buffalo.
Week 4 JACKSONVILLE: The Jacksonville Jaguars have consistently been one of the worst teams in the NFL for more than a decade, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. It will be interesting to see if Gus Bradley gives Bortles the keys to the offense from Day 1, or if he will stick with the underachieving Chad Henne. The Jags have some young talent on the offensive side of the ball, with acquisition of Toby Gerhart and acquiring Blake Bortles and Marquise Lee through this year’s draft. In the end, none of this will matter, and Philip Rivers will have his way with a poor Jags Defense. Bolts win this one in blowout fashion.
Week 5 NEW YORK JETS: The Jets will pose a challenge for San Diego. With the new acquisitions of Michael Vick and Chris Johnson, and the always tough Rex Ryan defense, the Jets could be a team fighting for a Wild Card spot. I expect the pass rush to do their job and contain Vick, while forcing him to commit a couple of turnovers. Rivers will put points on the board as well, putting pressure on the Jets’ offense to score. San Diego should win this game fairly easily, which will prove to be a big tie-breaker opportunity in the race for a Wild Card spot at the end of the year.
Week 6 @Oakland: Don’t sleep on the Oakland Raiders this year. Reggie McKenzie and the staff added some quality players in this year’s draft; players that will play a major role in bringing wins to a city that has only seen a handful per year for a decade now. That being said, Oakland is still years away from being a legitimate contender in the AFC West. San Diego should win both games against the Raiders, but the season split from the previous two seasons has me concerned. The team from America’s finest city is miles ahead of Oakland at this point in time, and that should show on the field. If Matt Schaub can’t get the offense moving in Oakland, then the Raiders are in for another dismal season. San Diego will get back to their winning ways and sweep the Raiders this year, but wins over the hated rival may be a little tougher to come by in years to come.
Week 7 KANSAS CITY: I believe the Kansas City Chiefs began showing us who they really are toward the end of the season. Andy Reid is a great football coach and that defense, when healthy, can cause nightmares for opponents. Kansas City will be a good football team this year, but I do not see them having the same success as last year. As long as San Diego can limit the effectiveness of Jamaal Charles then they can expect a win. It is very reasonable to believe that the Bolts can sweep the season series with the Chiefs, much like last year. Nonetheless, I expect the Bolts to split with the Chiefs at the very least. Bolts win at the Q.
Week 8 @Denver: I find it very hard to believe that anyone is going to dethrone the Denver Broncos this year. As long as Peyton Manning is in Denver, they will be very hard to beat. I do, however, believe it is reasonable for Charger fans to expect a split in the home/away series. San Diego will be hard pressed to get a win in Denver. Denver will prove to be too much in this one as the Bolts will struggle to find their groove after two consecutive division opponents in weeks 6 and 7.
Week 9 @Miami: Miami may appear to be a fairly easy win for the Bolts, but I think otherwise. Miami is an improving team, and they could give the Chargers some problems. Ryan Tannehill has shown that he is capable of winning games in this league, and the addition of Knowshon Moreno will add versatility to an offense that sometimes lacked an identity last year. Coming off an emotional week preparing to play division rival Denver, this game will serve as a speed bump for the Bolts. San Diego will leave Miami with a loss.
Week 10: BYE WEEK
Week 11 OAKLAND: As I stated in my analysis of Week 6, the Bolts will get back to owning the Raiders and life will be grand. After two weeks to prepare, the Bolts win this one with ease.
Week 12 ST. LOUIS: The Rams are a young team on the rise, and could give the Bolts some problems on the offensive side of the ball. Tavon Austin is a young, explosive receiver who could change the momentum of the game with one play. Jason Verrett will have a breakout game and shut down Austin helping the Bolts come out with a win.
Week 13 @Baltimore: Baltimore remains a dangerous team in the NFL. With Super bowl winning quarterback Joe Flacco the Ravens could be poised for another run at the playoffs. If Baltimore can get consistent play from Ray Rice this year then they will be right in the thick of the AFC Playoff race. This will be yet another tough test for San Diego, but as long as the Chargers can avoid giving up 4th and 29 conversions they should be competitive. I expect Phillip Rivers to have a big day against an inexperienced Ravens secondary, and the Bolts to squeak out a close game in Baltimore.
Week 14 NEW ENGLAND: San Diego will welcome the New England Patriots to Qualcomm Stadium for Sunday Night Football. This will be another stiff test for this team, but I expect to see a close, well-fought game from the Bolts. Historically, these two teams have played very close games, and it seems like the team with the ball last usually wins. Call me crazy, but I expect to see the Chargers win this game at home in front of a raucous crowd at the Q.
Week 15 DENVER: With the Chargers dropping the first game between these two hated rivals I expect to see a very strong showing from the Bolts at home. Throughout Manning’s career, San Diego has been his kryptonite, forcing Manning into a turnover machine. Also, with the expertise of former Denver personnel, head coach Mike McCoy and secondary coach Ron Miles, fans should expect a strong showing against the Broncos. I see the Chargers using their plethora of running backs to control the time of possession and play keep away from Manning’s offense. If the San Diego can limit Manning’s possessions and convert field goals into touchdowns, then they should be in very good position to pull out a win. Bolts will win this game at home and remain in the hunt for the AFC West crown.
Week 16 @San Francisco: This is one of the games I’m looking forward to the most. I believe this game will be a huge measuring stick for this football team. That being said, I expect an all out war when these teams meet in the Bay Area, and depending on which Charger team shows, I definitely don’t think a win is out of the realm of possibility. In the end, I think San Francisco’s offense will be too much for the Chargers to handle. The Bolts will play the ‘9ers close for the majority of the game, but San Fran will pull away when they need to.
Week 17 @Kansas City: Like last year, the Bolts will finish the season with the Kansas City Chiefs. I expect the Chiefs to be eliminated from playoff contention at this point, with virtually nothing left to play for but pride. San Diego could very well be playing for the playoff lives, and I expect them to finish the season strong and head into the playoffs with confidence.
As I look at the schedule and my analysis of each matchup, it looks I am very optimistic about the upcoming season. I have the Chargers winning 12 games (STL, AZ, NE, NYJ, BUF, DEN, KC (Twice), OAK (Twice), BAL, and Jacksonville) and losing 4 games (SEA, SF, MIA, and DEN).
As much as I would like to see the Bolts win 12 games this year I know the probability of that happening is slim. Even though the Chargers made a playoff run last year, it will be a lot more difficult this year with the schedule they’ll be facing.
Whether or not we make the playoffs should not be the measuring stick of success for this season. We have a GM that is loading this team with young talent, and I think it’s only a matter of time before the Bolts are back atop the AFC West.
Now, I will ask you the same questions. What is a realistic number of wins for this football team? And, will it be considered a failure if the Bolts fail to make a second consecutive playoff berth?