It’s the start of the new season in the NFL and every team starts with a clean slate including the Los Angeles Chargers. While every franchise is mathematically in contention for the Super Bowl, the Chargers have an edge in experience, talent, and favorable division matchups. Here’s a look at the factors for the Chargers’ most realistic path to their first Super Bowl win.
Entering his 15th season with Philip Rivers at the helm, the Chargers have the most experienced signal-caller in the AFC West. In addition to his prolific passing numbers, Rivers brings a rare toughness to the quarterback position owning the current active consecutive games started record with 192.
His supporting offensive cast is young and gifted and that’s the combination that creates post-season success: grizzled veteran leadership and hungry athletic skill position players with tons of potential.
The Chargers’ defensive unit boasts vets like nose tackle Brandon Mebane, defensive tackle Corey Liuget, cornerback Casey Heyward, and defensive end Melvin Ingram. Their experience will be key to getting the younger talent like Joey Bosa and rookie Derwin James contributing at the highest level.
Leadership from the top down will be important in overcoming adversity. The preseason schedule is just getting underway with the Chargers already down tight end Hunter Henry and cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Trevor Williams to injuries.
Chargers Against The AFC West
According to the Vegas odds, the Chargers are favorites to win the division. With a quarterback who will turn 37 this season, Los Angeles must take advantage and earn at least one home game in the playoffs if it wants to make a deep run.
The Raiders are a team in transition and relocating to Las Vegas perhaps as soon as 2019. New (old) head coach, Jon Gruden, enters his first season of his second tenure in Oakland. But Gruden hasn’t coached since 2008 and his ability or inability to adapt could turn out to be a bad investment for the $100 million dollar coach. The good news for the Raiders is Gruden says he won’t accept his salary if he doesn’t “get it done.”
Gruden will be tasked to turn around the 6-10 Raiders whose offense saw two of its young stars, quarterback Derek Carr and wideout Amari Cooper, take a step backward. After releasing receiver Michael Crabtree, the offense added free agent Jordy Nelson and traded for Martavis Bryant this offseason. The latter is facing a possible suspension and the former is coming off his worse statistical season in five years.
The Denver Broncos are coming off their worst season since 2010. Their rebuilding started the day Peyton Manning announced his retirement and the team is still seeking a solution at quarterback. With newly-acquired Case Keenum attempting the restore some consistency on offense, the real question is whether their defense can return to form helped by first-round selection Bradley Chubb.
The head-to-head record has favored the Broncos over the past five years but the Chargers have split the last four matchups and coming within a score in both defeats. Another series split would help the Chargers’ cause but a sweep is not out of the question, especially if the LA front seven can rattle their new quarteback and render a platoon of unproven running backs ineffective.
Kansas City Chiefs
This team could pose the biggest obstacle to the Chargers’ quest to win the division. While their offense is young and their defense is rebuilding, Kansas City has one of the most experienced and successful head coaches in the NFL.
The Chiefs are pinning their hopes on the first-year starting quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, after sending veteran Alex Smith to Washington. The offense looks to be as potent as ever with stud tight end Travis Kelce and running back Kareem Hunt creating matchup nightmares. Also, receivers Tyreek Hill and newly-acquired Sammy Watkins can huge beneficiaries of Mahomes’ big arm.
If the Chargers can hold serve at home, a series split could be all they can ask for when facing off at Arrowhead on Thursday Night in Week 15.
Chargers Non-Conference Schedule
The 2018 Charger schedule is not very intimidating. Playing most of their games against the AFC North and NFC West will give them an unusually easy travel schedule only having to travel east of the Mississippi twice all season.
The Chargers should be favorites in several of their matchups. LA faces off against the Bills, Browns, Titans, Seahawks, Cardinals, Bengals, and Ravens who boast a 2017 combined record of 51-61. With additional contests at home against the 49ers and what is essentially a home game against the Rams, a 12-4 record for the Chargers is not out of the question.
Admittedly, it is way too early to talk playoffs but when considering the Chargers Super Bowl chances the potential of the Chargers getting a postseason bye is invaluable. Let’s face it, there is only one perennial threat in the playoffs to anyone’s Super Bowl chances and that’s the New England Patriots, but even the Pats face an alarmingly high amount of inner turmoil.
Tom Brady is 41-years old, Rob Gronkowski has contemplated retirement amidst a myriad of injuries, and Julian Edelman faces a four-game suspension. If somehow the Patriots are forced to fly west to get to another championship, the Chargers chances increase exponentially.
Other favorites to make the playoffs are the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Either matchup looks much more winnable in Los Angeles but the Chargers on the road could be a challenge.
Pittsburgh could be a true test of strength-vs-strength as the Steeler defense is not as stout as it has been in the past. Yet the offensive weapons of Ben Roethlisberger at home in the cold along with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell is a beast of an obstacle.
Chargers Versus The NFC Champion
The early favorites to win the NFC are the Packers, Vikings, Eagles, Saints, Falcons, and Rams. None of these contests are slam dunks but out of the group, the matchups that could be best for the Chargers are the Falcons and the Rams. The reason is the quarterback matchups which could play into the Chargers’ defense hands.
On a neutral site and no weather to contend with, it will come down to who can force the most mistakes when the opposing offense is on the field. Advantage Chargers whose pass rush could fluster either Matt Ryan or Jared Goff.
If there was ever a year for the Chargers it’s now with Rivers in the last years of his NFL career as a top-tier quarterback. The stars might align just right and the time is of the essence for the Chargers to win their first Super Bowl championship.