For me to be able to say that tomorrow morning, it's going to take a heck of an effort.
The Texans are deserving favorites in tonight's clash, even though the game will be played in San Diego. Houston has earned double digit wins in the last two seasons, as well as back-to-back appearances in the divisional playoff round.
On the other hand, the Chargers have now failed three straight years to make the postseason and have been undeniably surpassed by Denver as the class of the AFC West.
To further differentiate the two teams, the Texans have grown greatly with draft picks and young talent, while the Chargers have wasted selection after selection and seen their roster dissipate over the years, whether it be due to injury, retirement, or free agency.
It doesn't seem like the game should be close. No one is picking the Chargers. Many analysts cite them as a bottom five or ten team.
But I have spent the last 253 days talking myself into this game. Don't underestimate how blindly loyal I am.
My prediction is that this game will be much closer than people think. I think it will be neck and neck from start to finish, and that the San Diego Chargers are more than capable of grabbing a huge home victory to kick off the season. Here's how they can get there.
Key #1: Ryan Mathews Early and Often
It is true that Mathews has not been the running back the Chargers thought he would be (and we can stop beating that dead horse now), but he has shown the ability to be a top 10 rusher in the NFL, because he was in 2011.
The Chargers have to produce in the ground game to have any shot. Not just in this game, but for the entire season. The passing game has come to a screeching halt. What used to be one of the best deep ball teams now shows no threat in that area and relies mostly on check downs to old or overrated backs.
If San Diego can't get Mathews started early, it's going to be a long day with JJ Watt and the rest of the defensive front keying in on Rivers in the passing game.
Key #2: Keep Rivers Upright
The Chargers offensive line is not good. It just isn't.They added DJ Fluker in the draft, and they better hope he's ready to contribute right away. This unit has been ransacked by injury the last few seasons, and the subpar play has effectively ruined Philip Rivers.
He hasn't looked comfortable in the pocket since 2009, which has resulted in a notable increase in interceptions.
For me, this is the biggest question mark of the season for San Diego. The line doesn't have to be stellar. It just has to do enough to give Rivers time, because we know he can make plays. The Texans are a tough first task for them, as they sacked the opposing quarterback 44 times in 2012 (Tied for 5th in the league).
Key #3: Don't Give Up the Big Play
The Texans running game is going to produce.
It could be Arian Foster (and I really hope it is for fantasy purposes) or it could be Ben Tate. Either way, they are going to get theirs. The offensive line is too good. The Chargers defensive front seven is young and inexperienced, despite their talent and potential. It just isn't a great match up. I don't expect them to stop the running game, but they have to contain.
Give up 4 yards here, 6 yards here. Don't worry about it. Keep the ball in front of you. Don't let Andre Johnson get over the top. The Texans thrive on the "run you into the ground and then pop off a huge gain on play action" strategy. The Chargers can't let that happen. The game could get away too quickly.
Key #4: Stay Within Range
The way the Texans can run the ball, and what I've seen out of the Bolts the last few seasons, it doesn't behoove the Chargers to get too far behind in this game. Take the opening kickoff if you can. Get some points on the board, get some momentum and confidence moving in the right direction.
It's always better to play from ahead, because... well... you're winning.
But some teams are better at playing from behind than others.
The Chargers aren't one of them. I would much rather force Matt Schaub into passing situations than let Foster/Tate run amok. Plus, I'm not sure the Chargers are the type of team that comes back from a double-digit second half deficit (although I didn't know the Rams or Bears were either).
Key #5: Be Aggressive, B-E Aggressive
This is the first and only time I will mention Mike McCoy.
I don't know anything about his abilities as a head coach at this point, and I will choose to give him a couple weeks before passing judgement. I just hope that he is more aggressive than the previous head coach, whose name I refuse to mention ever again.
After watching a team the last handful of seasons that played not to lose, I hope McCoy gets this one to play to win. Go for fourth downs. Take some big shots.
If you're going to go down, go down swinging.
The Chargers find themselves now in the role of underdog more often than favorite. I hope that they play loose and take their chances. What do they have to lose at this point?
I know that it is a tough road ahead for my Chargers, but sometimes the heart outweighs the head. Chargers hit a last second field goal to take it 31-30.
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