The organization was relatively quiet in the offseason, making few additions besides running back Donald Brown on a three-year deal. However, the squad also retained most of its key players, including Donald Butler and Chad Rinehart, and will hope that this consistency will help going forward.
Philip Rivers is one of the most important players returning after arguably the best season of his career. The quarterback led the NFL with a 69.5 completion percentage and was fourth in the league with a 105.5 passer rating.
With young targets like Keenan Allen, Eddie Royal and Ladarius Green all looking to take a step forward, the passing attack should be even better in 2014.
If the defense can gain more consistency, the Chargers have the opportunity to be one of the top contenders in the AFC. However, they must first find a way to navigate an incredibly difficult slate of games.
Here is a look at the 2014 schedule with analysis for the upcoming contests (via NFL.com):
|2014 San Diego Chargers Regular-Season Schedule|
|1||September 8||at Arizona||10:20 p.m.||ESPN|
|2||September 14||vs. Seattle||4:05 p.m.||Fox|
|3||September 21||at Buffalo||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
|4||September 28||vs. Jacksonville||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|5||October 5||vs. New York Jets||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|6||October 12||at Oakland||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|7||October 19||vs. Kansas City||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|8||October 23||at Denver||8:25 p.m.||CBS|
|9||November 2||at Miami||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
|11||November 16||vs. Oakland||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|12||November 23||vs. Seattle||4:05 p.m.||Fox|
|13||November 30||at Baltimore||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
|14||December 7||vs. New England||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|15||December 14||vs. Denver||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|16||December 20||at San Francisco||4:30 p.m.||CBS/ NFLN|
|17||December 28||at Kansas City||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
It is hard not to get intimidated while looking at this schedule. According to ESPN, it ties for the fourth hardest in the NFL by last season's winning percentages.
Things would have been tough regardless in a division that produced two additional playoff teams a year ago. The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs will be difficult matchups both home and away, and the Oakland Raiders are certain to improve with a young roster.
However, things get even tougher when you look outside the division, where the entire AFC West will battle against the NFC West. This includes the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and NFC runner-up San Francisco 49ers.
Matt Williamson of ESPN believes this tough schedule will cause a setback for the Chargers after being fortunate last season. He argues that they would not have made the playoffs in a tougher conference, via Eric D. Williams of ESPN:
They're talent deficient throughout the roster. The schedule helped them last year. I thought Mike McCoy or Bill Belichick should have been voted the coach of the year last year. They got the most out of their roster.
I think the AFC was so putrid, that wasn't a playoff-caliber team. Don't me wrong, they won games and got hot at the right time. But all of those teams that were fringe playoff teams in the AFC, none were quality options. None of them had a chance to contend for a title.
If this assertion is correct, San Diego will have a difficult time surviving against a tough schedule.
Even with a tough overall schedule, the Chargers have to first look to take care of business within the division.
According to ESPN.com, Broncos coach John Fox explained it from his perspective in saying, "You know they’re working their tails off to change things. We’re working hard to keep going, but your first goal always is to win the division; that’s the only guaranteed way to get in the tournament."
San Diego had an impressive 4-2 record against AFC West opponents last season, including a win over the Broncos in Denver. This win was the first of three straight division wins at the end of the year that helped the squad sneak into the postseason.
If the Chargers want to have more success in 2014, they will need to take care of business against the teams that know them best. While all the divisional games are important, the two against the Broncos could possibly end up deciding the division.
If they cannot beat Denver or Kansas City, fans should expect a big decline from the 2013 season.
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