The San Diego Chargers enter the 2009 season as pretenders to the throne. For the last three seasons, the Bolts have been everybody's lock pick to win the Super Bowl...and we all know how that turned out.
Preseason predictions are worthless in the cold reality of yet another playoff loss.
Last year's exciting stretch run showed what this team is capable of achieving, and yet it left all its fans frustrated as usual. By the time the Chargers had arrived in Pittsburgh for the divisional playoffs, they were battered and bruised.
Without LT, It was just a question of when and where they would finally go down. The Steelers effectively snuffed out most Charger threats, until they were safely out to a huge lead. Watching Pittsburgh win it all again was hardly comforting to Chargers' fans left standing at the door.
So the Chargers head into 2009 with few question marks, and many questions. Such as...
Does LT have anything left?
Will the return of Shawne Merriman bring the defense back to form?
Can anyone in the division challenge them?
Can WR Buster Davis contribute in his third season?
Can Norv Turner finally win the big game as a head coach?
Your guess is as good as mine...but it should be fun finding out.
Rivers took his game to the next level in 2008. Fearless under pressure and able to pick defenses apart with quick reads, Rivers can carry the Chargers to a title. They just have to give him the ball enough times to make it stick.
Rivers broke legendary Chargers' QB Dan Fouts' team record for touchdown passes last season, which was an impressive feat. Consider him among the top five quarterbacks in the game today, capable of winning any game at any time.
Rivers' 34 touchdown passes, 4009 yards passing, and 105.5 Quarterback Rating in 2008 are just a hint of what is to come this season.
LT has a lot to prove this season, not to me, but to all the naysayers. Tomlinson was the best back in the NFL in 2007. However, in the "what have you done lately" world of pro football, LT can only look back on a disappointing 2008.
If Tomlinson can find a way to stay upright for the playoffs, woe to those who have to face the Chargers. San Diego has been banging on the door for five years now, and intend on kicking it in during the 2009 season.
Shawne Merriman returns to a Charger defense that sorely missed his energy and game savvy. Merriman makes the Bolts' secondary better just by being in the mix, causing opposing offenses to make quicker decisions that don't always work out.
With the addition of fellow line backing rookie Larry English, and DB Antonio Cromartie looking to find his 2007 magic, the sky is the limit for the Chargers' defense, which can go as far as it wants to go.
Defense Wins Championships.
It's not often that a punter decides a playoff game, but anyone who witnessed Chargers' P Mike Scifres's amazing performance during the 2008 playoffs against the Colts will tell you exactly that. Scifres pinned the Colts permanently inside their own five yard line and drove Colts head coach Tony Dungy insane.
Scifres's ability to make the ball flop when it lands is as good a weapon as the Chargers have. Look for Scifres to get a little more national attention this season.
It took me until this week to finally turn to football again. When the Chargers lost in Steel Town last January, I was totally burned out. August through January, week in and week out, 24 hours per day of football. I needed a Mai Thai and a wave.
From that day until this week, I barely even played any Madden football and just kept a peripheral eye on the Chargers. But a couple weeks ago, the NFL Network replayed the playoff game against the Steelers, and it awoke the blood.
I am ready.
I would love to sit here and say "Chargers all the way," but until they actually do it, I will be happy in predicting that the Chargers will win the AFC West, yet again. Denver, Oakland, and Kansas City are all starting from scratch.
11-5 sounds just about right, maybe 12-4 with some luck.
The Chargers need to secure home field advantage in the playoffs.
If the Bolts can do that, they can run the table, as the Q will be rocking...