The 2015 season is playoffs-or-bust for the San Diego Chargers, and they now know the schedule they must navigate to get there.
San Diego finished a respectable 9-7 in 2014 but missed the postseason in a deep AFC. If it can find a way to tack on an additional win or two this year, it will likely be playing in January, which is the goal considering quarterback Philip Rivers is 33 years old and is in the win-now stage of his career.
The Chargers made a number of moves in the offseason to bolster their chances at a successful 2015 and signed wide receiver Stevie Johnson, wide receiver/kick returner Jacoby Jones and guard Orlando Franklin. They also re-signed cornerback Brandon Flowers and left tackle King Dunlap.
While running back Ryan Mathews went to the Philadelphia Eagles and wide receiver Eddie Royal went to the Chicago Bears, it was a solid offseason in San Diego and one that prompted a B-minus grade from Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com:
They did the wise thing re-signing corner Brandon Flowers and tackle King Dunlap, two quality starters. They added guard Orlando Franklin as their high-priced free agent to help upgrade the line. Franklin is a decent player, but he got a ton of money for being just that. They also added safety/corner Jimmy Wilson from Miami to add some flexibility to help offset the loss of Marcus Gilchrist to the Jets. Jacoby Jones will amp up the return game.
Here is a look at the schedule that the new-look Chargers will be up against this season:
|2015 San Diego Chargers Schedule|
|1||Sept. 13||vs. Detroit Lions||4:05 p.m.||Fox|
|2||Sept. 20||at Cincinnati Bengals||1 p.m.||CBS|
|3||Sept. 27||at Minnesota Vikings||1 p.m.||CBS|
|4||Oct. 4||vs. Cleveland Browns||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|5||Oct. 12||vs. Pittsburgh Steelers||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|6||Oct. 18||at Green Bay Packers||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|7||Oct. 25||vs. Oakland Raiders||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|8||Nov. 1||at Baltimore Ravens||1 p.m.||CBS|
|9||Nov. 9||vs. Chicago Bears||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|11||Nov. 22||vs. Kansas City Chiefs||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|12||Nov. 29||at Jacksonville Jaguars||1 p.m.||CBS|
|13||Dec. 6||vs. Denver Broncos||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|14||Dec. 13||at Kansas City Chiefs||1 p.m.||CBS|
|15||Dec. 20||vs. Miami Dolphins||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|16||Dec. 24||at Oakland Raiders||8:25 p.m.||NFL Network|
|17||Jan. 3||at Denver Broncos||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
The AFC West games are clearly always important for the Chargers, but they don’t really stand out as such because they are a given every year.
Instead, the contests against the NFC North turn some heads because they mean a showdown with one of the league’s most explosive offenses in Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay is always among the best records in the NFL with Rodgers at the helm, and that game will be in daunting Lambeau Field.
San Diego also plays a Detroit Lions team that is fresh off an 11-5 record and playoff appearance. Yes, Detroit lost Ndamukong Suh, but it replaced him with Haloti Ngata and still has Calvin Johnson hauling in passes.
The Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings are both looking to bounce back from disappointing campaigns and very well could, since Chicago has new head coach John Fox leading the way, and Minnesota has young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with more experience under his belt entering the 2015 season.
San Diego also plays the AFC North, which is a difficult task considering it was the only division with three postseason teams in 2014 in the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals. All figure to once again compete for playoff spots in 2015.
The Chargers also have games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins, which may not inspire much fear on paper. But Jacksonville is improving, and Miami made a number of impressive changes this offseason, including the addition of Suh along the defensive line.
Between the eight combined games against the North divisions and the always difficult contests against the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, this is not an easy schedule by any stretch. The Chargers will certainly be tested if they plan on making the playoffs, but they must make some internal improvements as well.
San Diego was 26th in the league against the run last year, which helped nullify one of the league’s best secondaries that finished fourth in passing yards allowed per game. It faces running backs Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy and Le’Veon Bell, among others, in 2015, so an equally poor showing in this department will spell doom.
The Chargers must also improve their own rushing attack that finished 30th in the league in 2014. The re-signing of Dunlap and the addition of Franklin will help create running lanes up front, but Mathews is no longer around. The Chargers need returning guys such as Branden Oliver, Donald Brown and Danny Woodhead to step up in 2015.
Head coach Mike McCoy gave them a vote of confidence in the offseason, per Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com: “We can win with the three guys we have now. I believe that. We're going to play them all.”
From a national interest, the games against brand-name teams such as the Packers and Bears stand out. If nothing else, they will be interesting for fans who don't often get to see the Chargers play against NFC North teams.
However, those contests will have far less of an impact on the postseason race for the Chargers than the ones against AFC squads, especially those in their division.
The race to the AFC West title once again goes through Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos until proven otherwise, and Kansas City was 9-7 last year and added some solid pieces in the offseason. The Chargers must find a way to rack up some head-to-head wins against their most dangerous competitors in the division. Otherwise, 2015 will likely be a lost year.
If Denver does win another AFC West crown, the Chargers can play their way into the wild-card picture with victories in the games against the AFC North and the contest against the Miami Dolphins.
It is nearly impossible to envision a scenario where San Diego makes the playoffs without winning some of the games against the Bengals, Dolphins, Ravens and Steelers. Head-to-head tiebreakers are critical in the tight AFC and could very well define San Diego’s season.