If you're a San Diego Chargers fan, there is one constant saying: "This is our year."
Unfortunately, this is never the case. Though we have had high expectations with tremendous talent, we have failed to achieve the highest goal: winning the Super Bowl.
This could be the one of the last years for the Chargers to establish their dominance in the AFC.
However, because it's preseason and it's OK to dream, here are five bold predictions for the 2012 Chargers season.
Disclaimer: Before the comments start rolling in disagreeing with the claims, keep in mind they are ordered from most to least likely.
I realize this bold prediction is already seemingly impossible to many of you, considering Ryan Mathews broke his collarbone in the preseason opener and Vincent Brown broke his ankle.
However, the Chargers have always been plagued by injuries, most notably by Antonio Gates.
If Gates, Malcom Floyd and Ryan Mathews (expected to play Week 1) can stay healthy throughout the entire season, the Chargers offense will be the best in the AFC West and could regain dominance in the division.
When Gates is healthy, he is one of the premier tight ends—no longer capable of putting up numbers like Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski, but still one of the league's best. Gates is Philip Rivers' most reliable target, and Rivers loves throwing him the red-zone jump ball.
Floyd, on the other hand, has yet to record a 1,000-yard receiving season. However, this isn't because he's a low-tier receiver. According to the U-T San Diego:
In the past 16 games in which Floyd played more than 35 snaps, he caught 63 passes for 1,211 yards and nine touchdowns. Among all qualified wide receivers with at least 50 games played since 2008, Floyd leads the NFL with 18.5 yards per catch.
Hopefully Vincent Brown only misses five games and can return to have a huge impact. Even on the field he will draw coverage away from the other receivers. Depending on the extent of his ankle injury, he could still be in line for the breakout season many expected from him.
Ryan Mathews is the quintessential Charger, never living up to the extremely high expectations.
However, I'll say it again: "This could be the year!"
In 2010, the Chargers traded up in the draft to get the 12th pick to select Mathews. That preseason, he was nearly the unanimous predicted Rookie of the Year. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. In just 12 games, he ran for 678 yards and seven touchdowns. However, as a recurring problem, he fumbled four times.
In 2011, he had a much better season and was elected to his first Pro Bowl. He ran for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns but, once again, fumbled five times.
His development is well-documented, and with the addition of solid veterans Ronnie Brown and Le'Ron McClain, Mathews will learn ball security and continue to grow as a running back.
The Chargers' home opponents are not easy.
If we can sweep the AFC West opponents, which won't be easy with an improved Broncos team, we will have a legitimate shot at this prediction. The Titans, Bengals and Panthers, though improving, cannot beat San Diego when the Chargers are as sharp as we all know they can be.
The toughest opponents are undoubtedly the Ravens and Falcons. To go 7-1, the Chargers will need to win at least one of these games.
However, Chargers fans must make Qualcomm Stadium a difficult place for visiting teams to play in. I recently wrote about the lack of a diehard fanbase, however this is a great year to prove me wrong.
Any given Sunday, though, right?
Melvin Ingram is a straight boss. Fact.
Ingram was drafted 18th overall from the University South Carolina, where in 2011 he record 10 sacks, 15 tackles for a loss and two interceptions. With his natural power and explosive speed, he's earned comparisons to Justin Tuck and Dwight Freeney.
In the 2012 NFL draft, the Chargers had a main goal of getting a top-tier pass-rusher, and that is exactly what they got with Ingram. If Ingram can record double-digit sacks and be an opposing pass-rushing force (which helps the defense in every aspect), there is nothing holding him back from becoming the Rookie of the Year.
Playoffs?! Early predictions are showing the Broncos as the AFC West winners.
If the Chargers want to regain their old dominance and win the AFC West, at least two of the previous predictions must happen—most importantly, the offensive stars need to stay healthy throughout the season.
In my opinion, both the Raiders and Chiefs downgraded personnel from last year. And though the Broncos have the elder Manning at their offensive helm, he has yet to prove if he can regain his prior form.
Though the Broncos defensive is stellar and their offense got a major upgrade, their 2012 schedule is pretty difficult. In addition to playing the Falcons, Ravens, Steelers and Saints (Chargers also have to play), they have to play the Patriots and Texans.
If I were a betting man, I would pick all their opponents to win—and not just because I'm bias.
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