San Diego Chargers Toughest Games of 2016
By Matt Wadleigh
The 2016 schedule was released last week. For the San Diego Chargers, they are looking to bounce back after a dismal 2015 season. With Ken Whisenhunt back on board as the team’s offensive coordinator, and with San Diego holding the third overall pick in the draft, the future is bright for the Bolts.
With a great offseason and free agency period, the Chargers should certainly do better than their record last year. With the release of the schedule, we take a look at the five toughest games for San Diego in the upcoming season.
5. at Kansas City Chiefs, September 11
Opening day. The first game of the year for San Diego. Well, the first game of the season is always a big one, and even more so when they have to travel to Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs return a talented team, and their defense has been one of the best in the NFL in recent years. The Chiefs are always tough, and the first game of the season is huge.
Dec 28, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) runs the ball during the first half against the San Diego Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
With Alex Smith and Jeremy Maclin, not to mention Jamaal Charles returning from injury, Kansas City’s offense is hard to stop. On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs defense isn’t much easier. If it weren’t for the Denver Broncos being in the same division, the Chiefs might just have the best defense in the division, and maybe even the entire AFC. The Chargers must get off to a good start in 2016, and a road win against the Chiefs would be just the way to do it.
4. at Atlanta Falcons, October 23
The Falcons had a great start last year before dropping a lot of games down the stretch, but make no mistake: Atlanta is for real. Dan Quinn was marvelous as the coach, and Julio Jones might be one of the best wide receivers in all of football. Throw in Matt Ryan, and the running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, and the Falcons offense is really, really tough.
Jan 20, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) carries the ball past San Francisco 49ers free safety Dashon Goldson (38) during the first quarter in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
To make matters worse for San Diego, this Falcons game is sandwiched right in between two games against-you guessed it-the defending Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos. The Chargers never favor very well when they have to travel east, and throw in the games against the Broncos the week before and the week after, this game isn’t going to be easy for San Diego. The Chargers secondary was a big reason for their down year, with the exception of Jason Verrett and recently departed Patrick Robinson. The Chargers have their work cut off for them.
3. at Houston Texans, November 27
Another road game makes this list. The Houston Texans, one of the surprises of last season. A team that made in the playoffs in the unpredictable AFC South, the Texans got even better in the offseason. Already with perhaps the best wide receiver in the league, DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans added a legitimate passing threat. Ex-Bronco Brock Osweiler signed a mega-money deal after starting just a handful of games for Denver last season, and running back Lamar Miller came over as a free agent after spending his career with the Miami Dolphins. While Miller might not be an upgrade over Arian Foster, the new Texans back is a very capable player.
Sep 9, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) heads up field past San Diego Chargers cornerback Derek Cox (22) during second half action at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY
But don’t forget about the Texans bread and butter: their defense. Led by J.J. Watt, the Texans are huge upfront. Wilfork and Clowney to go with Watt make this front line perhaps the best in football. The Texans are fresh off of a playoff appearance, and did so with Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, Brandon Weeden, and T.J. Yates playing quarterback. Of course, they did lose 30-0 in the Wild Card Round to the Chiefs, but Hoyer was his turnover-prone self in that game. Osweiler has all the tools to be a superstar quarterback, and Bill O’Brien is a great coach for this team. Beware, San Diego. The Texans are going to be scary good.
2. at Carolina Panthers, December 11
Another road game. The Bolts have a killer road schedule in 2016. This one is against the other Super Bowl team. Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart, Kelvin Benjamin, Luke Kuechly, Ted Ginn, Mike Tolbert, Josh Norman. Should I keep going?
Dec 15, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) looks to pass in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
The Panthers are here to stay. If they can keep this core together, ex-Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera’s team will be a favorite in the NFC for a long-time coming. Riverboat Ron has shot a ton of adrenaline into this team, and the Panthers might have a Super Bowl ring if it weren’t for Von Miller and that tenacious Broncos defense. Not to mention that this game is in the final month of the season, and could be a huge factor in both teams playoff hopes. Traveling to Carolina is always tough, no matter what.
- vs Denver Broncos, October 13 (TNF) at Denver Broncos, October 30
Yes, the toughest game is actually two games. The Super Bowl Champions. The team that lost Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. Yes, that same team. As of right now, the Broncos starting quarterback is? Mark “Butt-Fumble” Sanchez. That’s saying something.
Oct 23, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (58) comes in for the sack on San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) during the first half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Given, it wasn’t the offense that won the Super Bowl for this team last year. John Elway and Gary Kubiak thrived on defense, and it paid off. Von Miller, Derek Wolfe, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, and so forth. Malik Jackson left to Jacksonville, Danny Trevathan went to Chicago, Manning hung up his cleats, and Brock went south to Houston. Usually when you lose players of that magnitude, people worry. But not when you have the list of guys above: Talib, Ware, Wolfe, Super Bowl MVP Von Miller on defense. And on offense? Thomas and Sanders, Anderson and Hillman, and a stud offensive line. The Broncos aren’t going anywhere, whether it’s Sanchez or Manziel that starts on Opening Day. The Broncos should be the AFC West favorite, yet again, but the Chiefs, Raiders, and Chargers all got much better than last season.
The Chargers have a killer stretch in the early part of the season. The Bolts will play the Colts, Saints, Raiders, Broncos, Falcons and Broncos in the span of six weeks. It doesn’t get much tougher than that. Their first game against the Broncos is on a short week, on Thursday Night Football, in a “Color Rush” game. Things should be real interesting by then.
What is the toughest game for the Chargers in 2016?