Jan 1, 2012, Oakland, CA, USA; Fisheye view of NFL referee Clete Blakeman conducts the coin toss before the NFL game between the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders at the O.co Coliseum. Chargers captains are safety Eric Weddle (32), quarterback Philip Rivers (17), linebacker Takeo Spikes (51), center Nick Hardwick (61) and fullback Jacob Hester (22). Raiders captains are punter Shane Lechler (9), running back Rock Cartwight (25) and defensive tackle Richard Seymour (92). Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE
At long last, the curtain goes up on the Chargers season. As the encore game of the Monday Night Football double header, much love goes out to the NFL for showcasing the Chargers. Two monday night games, a thursday night game, five total primetime games and the Chargers are finally getting the national love they deserve. Trust me, no one is tuning in for Carson Palmer. A big rivalry game against the hated Raiders to kick off the season is going to be a big gauge of the Chargers season, Although The Greg One is a devout Chargers loyalist, also a realist. Ryan Mathews or not, the season could hinge on this game. Tone setting division game? Check. Game against most hated rival? Check. Quarterback that has to show he’s back to elite status after a down year? Check. Playoffs or bust? Check.
The Chargers finally blew the dust off the checkbook and got busy bringing in good free agents. Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal and Michael Spurlock are in to replace the departed Vincent Jackson. Ronnie Brown and LeRon McClain have been brought in to replace the departed Mike Tolbert. Antonio Gates is reportedly back to 100%. After two straight seasons with no playoff appearances, I stand firm in my belief that if this season is number three Norv Turner and A.J. Smith will be gone. This team has too much talent, even now, to miss the postseason three straight years. After this offseason’s mass overhaul, there are no more players to fire, which leaves coaches and management. Three strikes and you’re out..
After watching the pre-season games, The Greg One is hot and cold on some aspects of the team. Philip Rivers has looked average at best but that’s based on a very small sample size since he didn’t play much in preseason. I would have liked to see the connection with Meachem when they were on the field together but Meachem rarely touched the ball the whole preseason. Knowing the competitor and workaholic Rivers is, I know there’s a lot being done behind the scenes. Meachem is going to be the new number one receiver. He is a younger, faster albeit shorter version of Vincent Jackson. Every time he touches the ball he is a threat to take it to the house and he will need to play like it. Gates has looked great in preseason getting open and making plays. The new running backs have looked good, especially Ronnie Brown. Spurlock has looked really good and will help in the slot and on special teams. Losing Vincent Brown is a crippling blow but if the Chargers can start well he will be a huge lift at the end of the season when the Chargers schedule gets tougher.
The way The Greg One sees it, Peyton Manning’s arrival in the division is great for Philip Rivers. Rivers plays to the level of his competition at times. He played huge against Green Bay, Baltimore and New England last season. Rivers also has a winning record against Peyton Manning including a huge postseason win. Manning will raise Rivers game and those two games against the Broncos will decide the division. Kansas City is not ready yet and Oakland…is Oakland. That being said, the Chargers did have a season split with the Raiders last season after the Chargers had reeled off 13 straight wins against the Raiders. This season the Chargers season begins and ends with the Raiders. Losing to the Raiders is unacceptable.The Chargers need every division win they can get, nothing less than four division wins will do. The game at Arrowhead against the Chiefs and the game in Denver stand out as the games the Chargers could lose. The Chargers will open the season tonight without Ryan Mathews who gets hurt every season but at least this injury happened in preseason and he is on schedule to return by week 2 or 3. Tonight, Ronnie Brown will be the main back. Meachem, Royal and Malcolm Floyd will be the wideouts and a healthy Gates will patrol the middle of the field. A healthy Gates will draw the double team, leaving the wideouts to beat man-to-man coverage or find holes in the zones. We should all expect big seasons from the wide receivers if Gates stays healthy for that very reason.
The defense has looked outstanding. The Chargers may have finally got it right with their first two draft picks in defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes. Those two have spent the entire preseason camped out in the oppositions backfield. With those two and a healthy Shaun Phillips, Larry English and Antwan Barnes, the Chargers could become a version of the Ravens now that they can finally generate a legitimate pass rush. Speaking of the Ravens, bringing Jarrett Johnson over from Baltimore could also be a big factor if he plays the way he did in Baltimore. Johnson was a quiet leader of that defense, overshadowed by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
All things considered, the Chargers should win this division. Philip Rivers had a down season last year and he still threw for 4600 yards and 27 touchdowns. Quarterbacks would sell their soul for that stat line. The 20 interceptions Rivers threw was the abberation, aided by suspect play calling and one particular bad play in Kansas City which cost the Chargers a game winning field goal. That win would have got the Chargers in the playoffs. Until last season, Rivers had never thrown more than 15 interceptions while has has thrown for at least 4000 yards and 27 touchdowns each of the last four seasons. Expect a return to that form. Realistically, The Chargers will go a surprising, (to some) 10-6 and win the AFC West, good for third seed in the AFC playoffs. In the postseason, the defense, now solid and very stingy, get through wild card Denver (Philip bests Peyton in playoffs AGAIN), beats Houston in semifinal shootout then get revenge against New England in AFC championship game. The Chargers roll into the New Orleans Superdome to face NFC representative…Philadelphia. By this time, Michael Vick has used all his magic in New York, Detroit and Green Bay. Vick finds no running lanes and the Charger defense keeps the Eagles punter busy, leading to a Chargers 27-16 win. So let it be written, so shall it be done. Bolt up San Diego!!