It's been a long while since the San Diego Chargers weren't considered favorites to win the AFC West before the start of the season, but as fate would have it, the Bolts will be looking to reclaim the division in 2012.
In a recent edition of a segment entitled "5 In, 5 Out" on ESPN, analysts Mark Schlereth and Herm Edwards discussed San Diego's odds of making it to the playoffs, and the results were not what Chargers fans were hoping to hear. Unfortunately, both analysts concluded that the Chargers were certainly capable of getting into the playoffs, but two important factors were placing doubt in their minds.
Firstly, the Chargers have an unusually consistent pattern of losing streaks every season. Whether at the beginning of a season, the middle or toward the end, the Chargers find some way to drop games in bunches.
Last season, San Diego dropped six straight games after coming off a bye week. Four of those losses came against AFC opponents, and two of those losses occurred during overtime.
Looking at this season's schedule doesn't make me think that trend will stop, either. From Week 3 to Week 6, the Chargers will play the Atlanta Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos before heading into their bye. Only two of those games are against divisional opponents, but it's still a tough four-game skid any way you look at it.
And it doesn't stop there.
After the bye week, San Diego will go on the road to play the Cleveland Browns before facing yet another challenging line of opponents. From Week 9 to Week 14, the Chargers will go head-to-head with the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers. Five divisional opponents, four of which are 2011 playoff teams.
San Diego's season is going to be riding on those two skids of tough opponents. No, I don't expect perfection, but avoiding a meltdown during those chunk of games certainly helps keep hope alive.
The second factor mentioned in the segment was centered around the change of power in the AFC West itself.
Kansas City added some new pieces in the offseason, and as Edwards mentions in the clip, the Chiefs are going to be coming back healthy when the season starts.
The Oakland Raiders are going to be stronger with a healthy Darren McFadden in the running game, and Carson Palmer is going to have a full training camp with the team after joining the Raiders midseason last year.
Last, but not least, are the Denver Broncos and their huge acquisition of Peyton Manning.
Every team looks immensely better on paper, but we'll have to wait and see how their seasons unfold individually.
There's a lot to worry about when looking at these teams, but winning the AFC West isn't impossible for the Chargers. Philip Rivers won't be turning the ball over and botching snaps, and Ryan Mathews is receiving high praise for next season. In addition to that, the defense has seen their fair share of changes in personnel, and I'm excited to see if the defense can start picking things up.
It's not going to take 12 or 14 wins to clinch the division. Denver made it to the playoffs with an 8-8 record last season. The most important thing is to win the majority of the divisional games and avoid the losing streaks.
For once, clinching this division will actually mean something, and it's going to take an effort.