The NFL regular season starts in just under two months. The 2016 schedule has the Chargers facing the AFC South, NFC South, the Miami Dolphins (AFC East) and the Cleveland Browns (AFC North).
Below is a breakdown of their 2016 opponents.
Week 1: @Kansas City Chiefs
2015 Record: 11-5, 2nd AFC West
Offense: 27th overall
Defense: 7th overall
The Chiefs started 2015 slow, losing five straight games. They ended the season winning 10 straight and won their first playoff game in 20 years. The running game should be solid for the Chiefs in 2016. Jamaal Charles is coming back from an ACL injury. Along with his fellow running backs, Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West, KC sports one of the best backfields in the NFL.
Week 2: Jacksonville Jaguars
2015 Record: 5-11, 3rd AFC South
Offense: 18th overall
Defense: 24th overall
The Jaguars had a less than stellar season, placing third in the worst division in the NFL in 2015. Jacksonville only won one road game last year. The Jags took to the draft to help beef up their defense by signing defensive players with their first five picks, including DB Jalen Ramsey from Florida State and LB Myles Jack from UCLA.
Week 3: @Indianapolis Colts
2015 Record: 8-8, 2nd AFC South
Offense: 28th overall
Defense: 26th overall
The Colts had a 3-5 record in the first half of the 2015 season, losing starting quarterback Andrew Luck in Week 8. Backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and journeyman signal caller Josh Freeman went 5-3 in the second half, but it still was not enough to win the division. If Andrew Luck can stay healthy in 2016, the Colts could make improvements on offense. They drafted a much-needed center, Ryan Kelly from Alabama, with the 18th pick overall.
Week 4: New Orleans Saints
2015 Record: 7-9, 3rd NFC South
Offense: 2nd overall
Defense: 31st overall
The Saints were a very lopsided team in 2015. Their offense averaged 403.8 yards and 25.5 points per game, but their defense allowed an average of 413.8 yards and 29.8 points per game. That is clearly not a recipe for success. The Saints should continue to have a stellar offense with veteran Drew Brees at quarterback.
Week 5: @Oakland Raiders
2015 Season: 7-9, 3rd AFC West
Offense: 24th overall
Defense: 22nd overall
The Raiders made some improvements last year in an attempt to have their first winning season since losing the Super Bowl in 2003, but fell short, again. Their 7-9 record was an improvement considering they have averaged only 4.9 wins a season in the last 13 years. The Raiders will probably continue to improve in 2016. They have a young team lead by third-year quarterback Derek Carr. Don’t sleep on the Raiders in 2016.
Week 6: Denver Broncos
2015 Season: 12-4, 1st AFC West
Offense: 16th overall
Defense: 1st overall
The Broncos won the division — again — for the fifth consecutive season and went on to win Super Bowl 50. Peyton Manning had his worst season, finishing with only nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 10 games. The stellar Broncos’ defense allowed an average of only 283.1 yards and 18.5 points per game. The Broncos are bringing back pretty much the same defense in 2016. The retirement of Manning brings veteran Mark Sanchez, back-up quarterback Trevor Siemian and rookie Paxton Lynch fighting for the starting position. Rumor has it that Sanchez and Siemian are neck-and-neck in the fight to win the job.
Week 7: @Atlanta Falcons
2015 Season: 8-8, 2nd AFC South
Offense: 7th overall
Defense: 16th overall
The Falcons started out the 2015 season hot, winning six of their first eight games. The second half was the exact opposite, as they went 2-6. One of the two wins in the second half was against their division rival, and eventual Super Bowl runner-up, the Carolina Panthers. The Falcons drafted strong safety Keanu Neal from Florida with the 17th overall pick to boost their struggling defense.
Week 8: @Denver Broncos
See week six.
Week 9: Tennessee Titans
2015 Season: 3-13, 4th AFC South
Offense: 30th overall
Defense: 12th overall
The Titans looked like a sleeper team in Week 1 of the 2015 season, when they won 42-14 against the Tampa Bay Bucs, led by 2nd overall pick, Marcus Mariota, who had 209 yards, four touchdowns and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Despite Mariota’s success in Week 1, the Titans ended up with the worst record in 2015, averaging only 311.8 yards and 18.7 points per game. It will be hard to do much worse in 2016, but anything is possible.
Week 10: Miami Dolphins
2015 Season: 6-10, 4th AFC East
Offense: 26th overall
Defense: 25th overall
The Dolphins were led by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who averaged 263 passing yards per game and had 24 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. While those numbers aren’t terrible, his offensive line could not keep him standing up, as he was sacked 45 times. The Titans could fare better in 2016 when it comes to sacks with the signing of offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil from Ole Miss.
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: @Houston Texans
2015 Season: 9-7, 1st AFC South
Offense: 19th overall
Defense: 3rd overall
The Texans started the season off rocky, going 3-5 in the first half of the season but turned it around in the second half, only losing two games. The third ranked defense allowed only an average of 19.6 points for game and even had five games where their opponent only scored six points. The Texans liked what they saw when Brock Osweiler took over the quarterback duties for the Broncos and signed him to be their starter in 2016. This move could either make them or break them.
Week 13: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2015 Season: 6-10, 4th NFC South
Offense: 5th overall
Defense: 10th overall
The Buccaneers should have had a better record in 2015 since they had a top-10 overall offense and defense. Stats don’t always show the big picture, especially considering their offense averaged 375.9 yards per game, but only 21.4 points per game. The defense allowed an average of 340.4 yards per and 26.4 points per game. The Bucs took to their coaching staff to bring change, naming Dirk Koetter as the new head coach, replacing Lovie Smith, along with Mike Smith as the new defensive coordinator and Todd Monken as the new offensive coordinator.
Week 14: @Carolina Panthers
2015 Season: 15-1, 1st NFC South
Offense: 11th overall
Defense: 6th overall
The Panthers had an explosive offense in 2015, leading the league with 500 total points and an average of 31.3 points per game. Their offense, lead by quarterback Cam Newton, was not able to fare well against the best defense in the league and lost the Super Bowl to the Broncos, scoring only 10 points. The Panthers will be without DB Charles Tillman, who recently announced his retirement after 13 years in the league. They signed former Chargers punter Mike Scifres to a one-year deal.
Week 15: Oakland Raiders
See week five.
Week 16: @ Cleveland Browns
2015 Season: 3-13, 4th AFC North
Offense: 25th overall
Defense: 27th overall
For the fourth straight year, the Browns were in last place in their division. The quarterback situation in Cleveland was their biggest downfall in 2015. The off-field antics of quarterback Johnny Manziel had the Browns switching the starting positions between the former first-round draft pick and Josh McCown. The Browns lost their best wide receiver, Travis Benjamin, to the Chargers during free agency. They went to the draft in hopes of replacing him, drafting five wide receivers, including Corey Coleman from Baylor with the 15th overall pick.
Week 17: Kansas City Chiefs
See week one.
The Chargers only face four teams with a winning record last year, but two of the four of those teams are the Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs. They will face two teams with a .500 season and seven teams with a losing season in 2015, including the Oakland Raiders.
The schedule seems pretty easy — on paper — and I predict that they will definitely win more than four games this season. The Chargers play in a tough division and will need to win some of those games to be contenders in 2016.
Thanks for reading!
Every football media pundit on television lauds the NFC West as the by far best division in football. On some shows it has even been mentioned that the NFC West is the toughest division in sports regardless of the sport. While the NFC West is definitely the talk of the league division-wise, it is hardly a forgone conclusion that the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams are the best division in football.
The AFC West would beg to differ. While not as defensively dominant as the NFC West, the AFC West excels in the opposing category. The AFC West is the most offensively dominant division in football. The 1754 points scored by the AFC West teams best the closest division, the NFC North, by over 100 points (1,648). The NFC West led the league in fewest points allowed with a paltry 1,191. The next closest division was the NFC South with 1377 points allowed, a difference of 186.
The AFC and NFC West are the classic example of unstoppable force meets the immovable object.
That story played out in the last season’s Super Bowl as the highest scoring team in the league, the 13-3 Denver Broncos with 606 points scored faced the team that allowed the fewest points in the league, the 13-3 Seattle Seahawks with 231 points allowed. Both teams reached the same record in completely different fashions. Another old adage played out in this contest. Defense wins championships. The Seahawks embarrassed the Broncos 43-8, solidifying their season-long dominance with the Lombardi trophy. The win also put the NFC West as the best division going today.
But are they?
The NFC West was long the laughing-stock of the league until only three years ago. Keep in mind in 2010 the Seattle Seahawks created a national firestorm among football purists and analysts when they made the playoffs by winning the NFC West with a 7-9 record. It was during these three seasons that the NFC West rebuilt itself starting with the Rams drafting Sam Bradford in 2010. The 49ers drafted quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the 2011 draft. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was drafted in the 2012 draft. Add to the mix players that are now household names like Seattle’s Legion Of Boom members Walter Thurmond (2010), Earl Thomas (2010) and Richard Sherman (2011) or San Francisco’s Aldon Smith (2011) Navorro Bowman (2010) to show how this division has risen only after years upon years as the NFL’s doormat.
On the other hand, the AFC West has long had dominant teams represented with the exception of the 2008 and 2011 seasons when San Diego and Denver won the division with 8-8 records, respectively. In both cases, they won the wild card game and lost in the divisional round. League dominance by a division is cyclical. The last time the NFC West dominated the way they have been in present years was the Steve Young era 49ers in the 90’s. During the second half of that decade, the division also featured the Kurt Warner-led ‘Greatest Show On Turf’ St. Louis Rams team. Now the NFC West looks primed for another long run of dominance as players like Kaepernick and Wilson mature and the team around them gets better suited to their talents. The question is, at this point, are they that much better than the AFC West?
Take a look at the principal teams. In the NFC West you have Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona as the heavies while St.Louis toils away in the basement. In the AFC West you have Denver, San Diego and Kansas City jockeying for control with Oakland living in the cellar. The AFC West was the only division to get three teams in the playoffs last season. The NFC was close to getting three teams in as well as Arizona went 10-6 but failed to make the playoffs. Call them victims of circumstance, but the Cardinals did lose three games last season by a field goal including a loss to the lowly Rams in the season opener. The big three in NFC West had 2 more wins than the big three in the AFC West by a 35-33 margin. They were by far the top two divisions in the NFL when you take a win count of the top three teams. They may be lapping the rest of the league, but not each other.
Look at the starting quarterbacks. Representing the NFC West you have Wilson, Kaepernick and Carson Palmer representing the Cardinals. In the AFC West you have Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Alex Smith. If you had to select one group of quarterbacks, team notwithstanding, to carry your team a for full season which group would you pick? The NFC group is the young upstarts, (Palmer notwithstanding) but Palmer is only in his second season in Arizona. The AFC West feature the proven quarterbacks. Manning and Rivers can light up the scoreboard like a Christmas tree. Kaepernick and Wilson are on the rise but their best days are ahead of them. The AFC West crop are winding down their careers but Manning and Rivers represent the most dangerous quarterback tandem in any division.
Leaving Palmer and Smith out of the formula for a moment, in Manning and Rivers you have two of the most cerebral quarterbacks in the league. Give them time and they will eat defenses for lunch. There’s nothing they haven’t seen and they are the old-fashioned stand in the pocket, lead-footed gunslingers that are fading out of style in the NFL. Instead, teams fancy the new breed of quarterback with Wilson and Kaepernick as the prime examples. They are quick to scramble to extend a play. They are also very intelligent, game managers. They capitalize on field position granted by their stalwart defenses. Manning and Rivers have rarely had the benefit of top five defenses, instead making their mark with their arms and their superior knowledge.
This season, these divisions will battle it out in the regular season and when the smoke clears two things will be evident. One, neither division will get three teams in the playoffs. Two, we’ll know which division is truly the best in football because as you can see, no other division comes close. However, to answer the pundits, the NFC West is not without a doubt the best division in the NFL. They may be in the lead as they can boast the current Super Bowl champion but not by far. The safer thing to say is the WEST is the best division in the NFL, regardless of conference. Will the unstoppable force or the immovable object come out on top this year? Let the games begin.
What do you think? Which division is better?
The Greg One