San Diego Chargers: Realistic game-by-game predictions for 2016 season

Dec 13, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford (55) tackled San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) in the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City won the game 10-3. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 13, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford (55) tackled San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) in the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City won the game 10-3. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2016 NFL schedule has been released. Fans in San Diego are likely looking at it with optimism, hoping the team can completely turn around last year’s 4-12 season. For a look at the team’s full schedule, click here.

Before we get started picking each game, as the headline states, these are going to be realistic predictions. That said, I’m here to break some bad news. This team is not going to be in the playoffs this season. The schedule may be harder than it looks to some of those optimistic fans. There will be plenty to build on for next season, however.

Let’s dive right in.

Week 1 at Kansas City Chiefs: This is a tough way to start the season. The Chiefs are a team that pushed the New England Patriots in the division round of the playoffs last year and should be considered one of the favorites in the AFC this year. The Chargers have also lost four of their last six trips to Arrowhead Stadium.

Prediction: Chiefs 27, Chargers 17

Week 2 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: Make no mistake, the Jacksonville Jaguars are a team on the rise. But they’re still trying to become a complete team and win tough games on the road. The Chargers will send the crowd home happy in the home opener.

Prediction: Chargers 23, Jaguars 14

Week 3 at Indianapolis Colts: This is an interesting game, but if the Colts have a healthy Andrew Luck, they can be as good as just about any team in the league. This early in the season, he should still be healthy, meaning the Bolts will be in for a long day.

Prediction: Colts 31, Chargers 17

Week 4 vs. New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees returns to San Diego, for the first and likely the last time. The last time these teams played was in New Orleans and before that, they met inside Wembley Stadium in London. The Saints won both of those games. This time, it will be the Chargers who come out on top.

Prediction: Chargers 24, Saints 21

Dec 24, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree (15) is defended by San Diego Chargers defensive back Greg Ducre (33) during an NFL football game at Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Chargers 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Week 5 at Oakland Raiders: The Oakland Raiders are another team that seems to be trending in the right direction, particularly after a strong free-agent signing period that saw the additions of Kelechi Osemele, Reggie Nelson, Bruce Irvin and Sean Smith.  Plus, they still have one of the most dominant defensive players in football in Khalil Mack.

They present too many problems for the Chargers in this one and get the victory.

Prediction: Raiders 23, Chargers 20

Week 6 vs. Denver Broncos: Back-to-back games inside the AFC West and the Chargers get their first crack at the defending Super Bowl champions. This one comes on a short week on Thursday Night Football. It remains to be seen who will be playing quarterback for Denver in this game and the Chargers always play them tough. The Chargers could certainly pull the upset here, but we’ll give the Broncos the nod because of that dominant defense. Yes, they lost some pieces, but they’ll still be tough.

Prediction: Broncos 20, Chargers 16

Week 7 at Atlanta Falcons: The Chargers will have 10 days rest before this road trip to the Georgia Dome. The Falcons went just 4-4 at home last season, but one of those wins came over the Carolina Panthers. This game is a toss up, but we’ll give it to the home team.

Prediction: Falcons 31, Chargers 28

Jan 3, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) throws a pass under pressure from Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (58) during the second half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Week 8 at Denver Broncos: Another matchup with the Broncos and this one takes place in Denver. The last time these two teams played there, the Chargers almost spoiled Denver’s bid at gaining home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Would Denver have won the Super Bowl without that? That’s a good question.  This game won’t be as close, or as tense for the home team.

Prediction: Broncos 23, Chargers 9

Week 9 vs. Tennessee Titans: Like their AFC South counterparts in Jacksonville, the Tennessee Titans are a team trending upward. Earlier this week, Tennessee agreed to trade the No. 1 overall pick to the Los Angeles Rams. By doing so, the team acquired several future high draft picks. But that will come later. They’re still young and not ready to invade San Diego and pick up a win.

Prediction: Chargers 24, Titans 17

Chargers expected to hold Nov. 8 vote for new stadium. Two home games sandwich that Tuesday vote: Nov. 6 vs. Titans, Nov. 13 vs. Dolphins.

— Michael Gehlken (@sdutGehlken) April 15, 2016

Week 10 vs. Miami Dolphins: San Diego gets back-to-back home games for the first time all season and they don’t waste the opportunity. They dispatch the visiting Dolphins in a close game.

Prediction: Chargers 23, Dolphins 21

Week 11- Bye Week: The Chargers get their bye at an opportune time following consecutive victories. At this point, we have them at 4-6 on the year.

Week 12 at Houston Texans: This is a bad matchup for the Texans, despite the fact that they’re the home team. Not only will they be facing the Chargers coming off a bye week, but the Texans will be on a short week having played the Raiders on Monday Night Football in Mexico City.

The Chargers get their first road win of the year, and their third in a row overall.

Prediction: Chargers 21, Texans 17

Week 13 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: If the Chargers remain focused, they’ll have a great chance to win a fourth consecutive game here against a talented, but young, Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad.

So long as the Chargers don’t overlook these guys, they’ll roll to a win.

Prediction: Chargers 28, Buccaneers 16

Week 14 at Carolina Panthers: This is a tough game no matter how you slice it as the Chargers go on the road to face the defending NFC champions who were undefeated at home last season. The Panthers lead the all-time series 4-1. San Diego hasn’t played in Charlotte since 2004, which is the only game in the series that they did win.

Carolina takes this one at home pretty easily.

Prediction: Panthers 30, Chargers 14

Week 15 vs. Oakland Raiders: This will be an important game for the Chargers who will find themselves fighting for a Wild Card berth down the stretch. Health will obviously play a key role at this stage of the season, but the Chargers will be able to buckle down and earn a key win at home with a last-second field goal to even their record at 7-7.

Prediction: Chargers 27, Raiders 24

Week 16 at Cleveland Browns: By this point, the Cleveland Browns will have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft all but sewn up and the Chargers will put them one step closer to that “honor” with their second road victory of the year.

Prediction: Chargers 23, Browns 10

Week 17 vs. Kansas City Chiefs: We have the Chargers at 8-7 and a win over the Chiefs could put them into the playoffs as a Wild Card. How many times have these two teams closed out the season with playoff implications on the line in recent years?

Philip Rivers will do everything he can to earn a trip to the postseason again, but the Chiefs defense will be stingy as well in trying to earn a season sweep of San Diego. This game will go into overtime where a late turnover forced by the Chiefs will set up a game-winning—and very deflating—field goal by Cairo Santos to win it.

Prediction: Chiefs 30, Chargers 27 OT

So we have the Chargers finishing the year at 8-8, which would have to be considered a success following last year’s 4-12 mark. Yes, missing the playoffs will sting, but there is a great chance that the team will be able to realistically contend for the playoffs and much more in 2017.