The San Diego Chargers of the past few years have been a historically slow starting team. The last two seasons have seen early charges by the Broncos coupled with mediocre openings to give concern over the distant playoffs.
By season’s end, those concerns have always been allayed by division-winning runs including last year’s double-digit win streak.
Yet eventually those slow starts could catch up to the team. In 2008 they took the division with a paltry 8-8 record thanks as much to a Denver Broncos collapse as their own late run.
The limited competition within the division (the 17 wins last season were second only to the NFC West’s 14 as worst among the second, third, and fourth teams in any division).
Eventually one of the rebuilding teams will have to break through, and San Diego will need to be able to exert a season-long effort in order to maintain its crown.
With the 2010 season released, it appears this may just be the season for San Diego to shake that particular monkey from its back. The difference between the opening stages of this upcoming season and those of the 2009 season are considerable.
When San Diego opened last year it faced the always difficult Baltimore Ravens as well the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos while both were in their pre-skid phases. It was not until weeks seven and eight that the team faced two non-playoff contenders consecutively.
This year the team opens with only one 2009 playoff team among its first six, the Arizona Cardinals.
Four of those six teams don’t figure to be in the hunt for .500, let alone the playoffs. The Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, and St. Louis Rams went a combined 15-49 last year, with few significant changes thus far this offseason.
Along with the Cardinals, the Jacksonville Jaguars at least have some claim to respectability. The Jaguars were holding onto a tenuous playoff berth through week 13 before a four game season-ending skid dropped them from contention.
They present a threat in that they are capable of Jekyll and Hyde play, dropping embarrassing games to poor opponents (such as a 41-0 drubbing by Seattle) while proving surprisingly resilient against quality teams (sweeping the divisional matchup with Houston).
If San Diego slips into its early lethargy against the Jaguars they are fully capable of making San Diego pay. The difference is that the team can likely afford such a lapse early because it should be the lone loss of the team’s first six.
The Arizona Cardinals of 2009 may have presented a serious threat to make San Diego a potential 4-2 had they started slowly, but the 2010 incarnation should be fighting for its playoff life despite an extremely weak division.
Core players from both the offense (Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin) and defense (Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle) have departed in favor of a youth movement that is likely cost-centric by the traditionally tight-fisted organization.
That opening flurry should give San Diego the necessary momentum to take into its mid-season, where the competition perks up considerably.
That five game stretch appears to be the toughest block of San Diego’s schedule, with all five teams potentially eying the playoff picture (only the Tennessee Titans in week 8 could be a wild card in that regard).
They then finish out the season with three out of five games against divisional opponents; something only a team in either Western division would find a welcome respite.
Barring something drastic, the San Diego Chargers’ 2010 schedule should prove to put them in a position to focus on seeding rather than just making the playoffs. The tough middle stretch makes another double-digit winning streak difficult, but essentially trading the AFC North for the NFC West this year should be enough to ensure a solid 11+ win season once more, and another year of playoff hope.