Stay Cool, San Diego: 10 Reasons Why the Chargers Will Win the AFC West
It’s September and the Chargers are off to a slow start. Stop me when you’ve heard this story before. For most of the last decade the San Diego Chargers have controlled the AFC West. They have won the division five of the past six years and were heavily favored to win it this season.
The season has not gone as planned as of yet for the Bolts. They dropped a Monday night game to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1, and gave up two returns for a touchdown last Sunday in a loss to Seattle.
Making matters worse for the Chargers, highly touted rookie running back Ryan Mathews is injured and the defense has a myriad of injured players.
Still, there is no reason for panic. This team seems to thrive on being the underdog. Two years ago they won their last four games to back into an AFC West division title. Last season after a slow start they won 11 straight games and won another division title.
So for those Bolts fans panicking, calm down and hit the beach. Here are 10 reasons the Chargers will win the AFC West.
10. Mike Tolbert
Originally the team’s fullback, he has done a superb job as the primary ground option. He leads the Chargers with 181 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Tolbert is the big downfield runner this team needs. He is proving to be a reliable every down back that has even caught a few passes out of the backfield.
Add in speedster Darren Sproles, and the Chargers have a duo that can carry the load until Ryan Mathews is healthy.
9. The Special Teams Will Improve
One thing for sure is that this unit can’t play any worse. The Chargers have given up three returns for touchdowns in as many weeks. It should have been four but Leon Washington tripped over his own feet.
It is a surprise that the special teams coach is still employed. Nonetheless, the Chargers have two losses and in each of them, a return for a touchdown was the difference.
Look for San Diego to take drastic measures on special teams. We will likely see more starters added on the unit to ensure they don’t give up anymore big plays.
8. They are Notoriously Slow Starters
In each of the last three seasons the Chargers started 2-3. Yet they won the division all three times. For whatever reason San Diego is not a strong team in September and the early season defeats seem to motivate them.
Last year, 11 straight wins followed after a 2-3 start. In 2007, the Chargers would go on to win their last six games following a 5-5 start. If there is one thing we should know, it is that this team is far from out of the race.
Expect the Chargers to look lackluster for the next couple weeks and then turn it on in the second half of the season.
7. Ryan Mathews
So far he has been nothing but hype. He has yet to do anything to show he was worthy of being drafted, let alone being drafted in the first round. Don’t count Mathews out yet though. He was more than likely on his way to a big game before being injured against Jacksonville.
When he returns from injury he will be eased back into the rotation and that will take some of the pressure off Philip Rivers' shoulders. A huge benefit for Mathews is that he will be running on fresh legs in the middle of the season. He has only carried the ball 24 times and if he has no lingering ankle issues, San Diego will be in good shape down the stretch.
6. Kansas City is a Fraud
You can all but eliminate the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders. Neither team figures to be much of a factor down the stretch. That leaves the Chargers and the Chiefs. The Chiefs own a victory over the Chargers already but no one should put much stock in that win. Kansas City was at home and pumped up for the season opener and it is safe to assume San Diego gets revenge when the teams meet again.
Kansas City is undefeated and its defense is much improved but when you look at its other two victories you have to wonder. They struggled to beat a winless Cleveland team and their win over San Francisco doesn't mean much either. The 49ers were thought to be the NFC West favorite but are winless after three weeks.
The Chiefs' next two games are on the road against defending AFC champion Indianapolis and then Houston. Kansas City should be exposed in those two games and San Diego should put themselves back atop the division before October’s over.
5. Look at the Schedule
The next three games the Chargers will be favored and should win. Sunday, they host a mediocre Arizona Cardinals team. After that its road trips to play division foe Oakland and then off to St. Louis to play the Rams. The Chargers figure to be 4-2 following those games.
Their following three games will present a bigger challenge (New England, Tennessee, and at Houston.) However, the first two will be home games and Houston is 0-3 against the Chargers in three meetings.
The Chargers get a bye in Week 10 and other than a trip to Indianapolis and a game in Cincinnati the day after Christmas, they should run the table.
4. The Defense Will Get Healthy
A lengthy list of Chargers defenders found themselves on the injury list. Linebackers Larry English, Stephen Cooper, Jyles Tucker, and Shawne Merriman all have been nagged by injuries. Add in corner Quentin Jammer who has battled foot problems, and this is a unit that is less than 100 percent.
Despite the injuries the Chargers still rank in the top 10 in rush defense, pass defense, and total defense. Once their defense mends they should only improve on those stats.
If they are to make any noise the defense must be as reliable as it has been for Chargers teams of the past. Look for Antoine Cason to continue to make big plays in the secondary. He currently leads the team in interceptions.
3. Marcus McNeill
Philip Rivers has been sacked seven times this season and four of them came last weekend in Seattle. Another game like that and the Chargers could expect to soon be starting Billy Volek.
The Chargers will not only benefit in pass protection but in the run game as well. Football is the ultimate team sport but other than quarterback there might not be a more important offensive commodity than a great offensive tackle. With McNeill in the huddle, the Chargers offense can now function at its highest level.
2. Philip Rivers
He is without a doubt the unquestioned leader of this team. Rivers has thrown for 1,087 yards through three games and leads the NFL and his seven passing touchdowns ranks him third in that category. He is a fiery competitor and his big arm guarantees that the Chargers are never out of a ball game.
Rivers has been the man under center for the Chargers' last four AFC West titles. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and it seems to rub off on his teammates. If San Diego is to win another division crown it will be because No. 17 is playing at his very best.
A Super Bowl crown is the only thing missing from Rivers' resume and it is the thing that drives him the most. Rivers looks to guide the Chargers to the playoffs in hopes that the fifth time will be the charm.
1. Their Record in December under Norv Turner
Say what you want about Norv Turner but he gets this team to play its best football when it matters most. In three seasons, the Chargers are 13-0 under Turner in December, a trend they hope to continue in 2010. The Bolts have three straight home games against the Raiders, Chiefs, and 49ers and the month’s lone road game is a trip to Cincinnati.
If for no other reason, the Chargers are still a dangerous team because of the way they finish the season. Turner’s team has finished each of the last three seasons with win streaks of 11, four and six. There is no reason to believe they won’t finish red hot in 2010 as well.