This season, the San Diego Chargers will attempt to take their fourth consecutive AFC West crown. On the flip side, they will also attempt to reverse a slide that has seen their record dip from 14-2, to 11-5 and finally 8-8 last season.
Last season, the Chargers went 1-4 when visiting the East Coast (including the playoffs), as well as losing to the Saints in London at Wembley Stadium. This year, they'll only need to visit the East Coast twice.
For 2009, San Diego has seven games against teams who made the playoffs last season. Miami, Philadelphia and Baltimore will visit Qualcomm Stadium, while the Chargers will go on the road and face Dallas, Pittsburgh, Tennessee and the New York Giants, among others.
Of those teams, the Chargers faced Miami and Pittsburgh twice last season, losing all three contests.
This April, the NFL will release the order in which the games will be played. San Diego's schedule last season included a brutal stretch in which they visited Buffalo, then flew to London for their game against New Orleans, flew back to San Diego, played Kansas City after a bye and flew to Pittsburgh for their game against the Steelers.
The Chargers were 1-3 during that stretch.
Despite their struggles, San Diego finished at 8-8 and made the playoffs, taking advantage of a weak AFC West. This season, two of the Chargers' divisional rivals received a complete overhaul and are looking to dethrone the Bolts after their recent dominance.
The Chargers went 1-3 against NFC foes in 2008, and this year they will face one of football's strongest divisions, the NFC East. In 2005, the last time the Chargers faced off against that division, they were 2-2, beating the Giants and Washington, but falling to Dallas and Philadelphia.
San Diego went 5-1 against the AFC West last season, but struggled to obtain both their wins against Kansas City, beating the Chiefs by a total of two points combined in their meetings.
The Chargers also needed a fourth-quarter comeback against the Raiders in order to defeat them in September. The Broncos won the first game between San Diego in Denver in a heavily controversial match that produced a rule change this offseason.
Despite getting defensive playmaker Shawne Merriman back from injury and looking to bolster their team via the draft, San Diego will face a reloaded AFC West this season and a brutal schedule that could keep them out of the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
For stars such as LaDainian Tomlinson, Jamal Williams and Chris Chambers, the clock is ticking away towards a potential Super Bowl championship and this season, San Diego will look towards enforcing a common football mantra:
In order to be the best, you have to beat the best.
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