The first wave of new support is giving way to those looking to rebut the team’s chances. How one feels will not ultimately decide the team’s fate—the team will take care of that all by themselves.
Yet looking through articles/reports that begin to try to attack the Chargers' potential for success, a notion strikes through them all—the team’s chances are being criticized for the simple reason that those chances are so very prevalent.
The team right now appears poised for a solid playoff run, not only because of the Chargers' own merit, but also because of some declining merit around them.
San Diego is facing a playoff picture where no team is truly frightening.
Last year’s Super Bowl Champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers, are not even in the playoffs. Perennial threat New England has seen a decline in its defensive prowess to go along with the loss of leading wideout Wes Welker. Early monster Cincinnati looks far more human now.
In past years, San Diego had gone in with similarly high expectations. Before, however, they were one among three or four of the better teams just in the AFC. They continually played well but were felled by teams that would eventually represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
The separation between top and bottom is much closer than before.
That advantage means there will not be a downright frightening team to face in the postseason. The difference in opposition is one great swing in San Diego’s favor.
Another unheralded advantage would be momentum.
San Diego’s history of solid Decembers has laid the foundation for criticism over the Chargers' advantage as "the hot team" going into the playoffs. What is not mentioned within that debate is the matter of scale.
Last year, San Diego was a 4-8 team that scrapped its way through four wins to squeak out a playoff berth thanks largely to the Denver Broncos’ first of two collapses. They had to fight because they had no other choice; it was win or go home each week.
This year, the team spent most of December with a comfortable edge in its division.
A brief flurry by Denver (with back-to-back wins against the Chiefs and Giants) quickly slipped back into the Broncos second-half skid. San Diego was no longer winning by way of pressure; they were winning simply by outplaying opponents despite the opposing team often having more to play for.
That scale is also magnified by one number—11. That is the number of consecutive wins this team is taking into the playoffs.
A four-game winning streak is a solid call for momentum (just look at the laudations given Dallas with its three wins to close the year), but it is something that happens fairly often in football.
Eleven consecutive games means much more.
Instead of a cause for optimism, it makes a statement. Added to that would be wins against a Dallas team fighting for its division, a Cincinnati team that still had hope for a second seed, a resurgent Titans team looking to claw into the playoffs, and an always dangerous Philadelphia Eagles team.
The Chargers have already proven the capacity to overcome injury, as witnessed by just about every member of the defensive front seven missing time to injury (starters and key backups) as well as playing hurt.
They have fielded a round-robin along the offensive line because of injury, but they will field the healthiest group they have had all year with center Nick Hardwick returning and veteran John Runyan now up to speed.
In the backfield, they may be a better team with starting fullback Jacob Hester listed as doubtful (though with the extra week, that could easily change) and Mike Tolbert starting in his place.
The Chargers' running game has been a weak point; however, that has yet to effectively stall the team’s progress.
Arizona proved in last year’s playoff run that a team with a last-place running game can lean on a great passing game to drive through its entire conference. The Chargers' running attack is no longer a major threat, but it is much more respected than the 2008 Cardinals' rushing game.
Behind San Diego as the 32nd-ranked running team sits Indianapolis, considered the Chargers' primary threat in the AFC. Also in the bottom 10 are the Eagles and Cardinals, two highly respected offensive teams.
The team has also faced unfounded criticism over Norv Turner. He is not a fiery leader, and he likely never will be. He is a generally calm, measured man who approaches the game more intellectually than passionately.
Yet Turner has turned in significant wins in the playoffs for the Chargers already.
In 2007, the Chargers defeated the Titans in the Wild Card round, only to stun Indianapolis by taking the divisional round game despite injuries to Ladainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers, and Antonio Gates.
In 2008, those same Chargers once again faced a favored Colts team in the playoffs and came away with the win.
With a host of weapons on offense that is at its most dangerous with the improvement along the offensive line, and a defense that looks to be its healthiest since week one, San Diego is in a great position.
It would be foolhardy to outright call the team for the Super Bowl.
The playoffs are long, and anything can happen.
Yet all the reasons detractors give for San Diego’s negligent chances are not going to arouse concern. This is a team not only peaking at the proper time, but it is also doing so in a year where several others are suffering late setbacks.
This year, San Diego looks forward to a great position to make a run at the Super Bowl.
They have internal and external advantages and will be a dangerous team to face.
To take a look at how San Diego's first step toward the Super Bowl could play out :