Chargers 2016 game predictions: Are playoffs a possibility?
By Matt Pagels
Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.
Like Homer J. Simpson, I am ecstatic that the regular season is finally here. After making final roster cuts and picking up three decent players off the waiver wire, the San Diego Chargers are ready to go for Week 1.
Why should I be excited about a team that finished 4-12 last season, you ask? Well, this is not your ordinary 4-12 team. This team has talent. This team is young. This team is underrated going into 2016.
And aside from injuries to wide receiver Stevie Johnson (meniscus) and running back Branden Oliver (Achilles), both of whom are lost for the season, the Chargers are relatively healthy. That’s extremely refreshing to hear.
The question is, can this team stay healthy throughout the entire year? The Chargers have had more injuries than Taylor Swift has boyfriends. Wait, wait, I have another one: The Chargers have more injuries than the Kardashians have plastic surgeries. If starters go down–specifically on the offensive and defensive lines–then you can kiss this season goodbye. I’m not trying to put a damper on any expectations, but those two areas are the keys to a successful turnaround.
With that being said, let’s take a look at game-by-game predictions for the 2016 Chargers.
*Disclaimer: These are not real, so don’t hurt yourself overthinking my predictions.
Week 1 – at Kansas City
Going into one of the more louder stadiums against a divisional opponent and walking away with a win is going to be a tough task for the Chargers. The Kansas City Chiefs are a team that many fans and analysts believe could make a Super Bowl run. The Chiefs have a top-10 defense, with their defensive line likely being the determining factor in this one. A lineup consisting of Jaye Howard, Allen Bailey, Dontari Poe and second-rounder Chris Jones might be the scariest group the Chargers face all season.
Fortunately for the Bolts, OLBs Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are banged up. Houston was placed on the PUP list after undergoing ACL surgery, and even though Hali (knee) was activated from the aforementioned list, he will likely be on a snap count against the Bolts. Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry is back, but he missed majority of training camp due to a holdout. Running back Jamaal Charles will likely sit out, but the Chiefs are deep at the position with Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West.
Unfortunately, the Chargers are winless in their last four games against the Chiefs. Per NFL.com, Philip Rivers has failed to throw a single touchdown pass and has tossed four interceptions in his last three games against the Chiefs. Will the Chargers’ offensive line keep Rivers upright and create holes for second-year running back Melvin Gordon? Will the absence of 2016 first-rounder Joey Bosa on the defensive line play a factor? It’s going to be closer than people think, but I see the Chiefs taking Game 1.
Week 2 – vs. Jacksonville
I love the Jaguars this year. I really do. They have playmakers on both sides of the ball. Actually, both of these teams remind me of each other in terms of young, underrated talent (even though the Jags are getting more love). Both teams have dangerous pass-catchers as well as revamped front sevens. Heck, both head coaches are on the hot seat this season, too. But the Chargers have a veteran in Rivers under center, and he leads them past the Jaguars in the team’s home opener.
Week 3 – at Indianapolis
On the other hand, I don’t like the Colts. Call me crazy, but I’m just not a believer in Andrew Luck. The Chargers will head to Indy to face a second straight team from the AFC South, arguably the weakest division in the AFC. The Colts have their receivers going for them in T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett, but corners Jason Verrett, Casey Hayward and Brandon Flowers will shut them down and be cast as the new “three best friends” in The Hangover IV.
Week 4 – vs. New Orleans
A game for the ages as Drew Brees comes back to San Diego for the first time since 2005 to face Rivers, his former understudy. This excites me more than when the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao bout was revealed. Hopefully, this battle won’t let us down (man, what a bummer that fight was). I agree with San Diego Union-Tribune’s Kevin Acee: Rivers will throw for 500-plus yards and win this game unlike what happened last year, when he threw for 500-plus but the Chargers somehow lost the game.
Week 5 – at Oakland
The Raaaiders, as Chris Berman would say, are reeeally good on paper. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2002, but many analysts are predicting Oakland to make a push this season, and I can see why. They have a franchise QB in Derek Carr, a stud WR in Amari Cooper, dominant pass-rushers in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin and an improved secondary in Sean Smith and Reggie Nelson. While RB Latavius Murray rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, I’m not scared of him. Actually, fifth-rounder DeAndre Washington is somebody to watch out for (even you, Murray).
The Raiders are at home in the first match. The Chargers will be 3-1 going into the game. We are all feeling good until Mack, a former No. 5 overall pick, sacks Rivers to end the game.
Week 6 – vs. Denver
It seems as if the defending Super Bowl champs are getting no love, just like Ann Coulter at Comedy Central’s “Roast of Rob Lowe” (how hilariously brutal was that?). Yes, they have question marks at the quarterback position and lost a few pieces on defense, but they still have good receivers, a decent running game, a superstar pass-rusher and a trio of good, if not great, corners. A second divisional game in a row is tough, but the Chargers, who are the home team, will not let this one slip away, especially after going down 0-2 in the division already. Gordon takes over the game like Ryan Mathews did for the Chargers in the team’s 27-20 unexpected win against Denver in 2013.
Week 7 – at Atlanta
Meet the Atlanta Falcons, one of the most underachieving teams over the last three years. Actually, the definition of this team is comparable to the Chargers: There’s always optimism, but nobody really knows what you’re going to get. Julio Jones is a freak, and Devonta Freeman had a career-year in 2015, but Matt Ryan–and their defense–as held this team back. Personally, I think Ryan will have a decent 2016, especially with a good offensive line, which now includes former Browns center Alex Mack protecting him. But the Chargers’ defense is farther along than the Falcons’ defense at this point in the season. Rivers throws one touchdown pass for each kid he has.
Week 8 – at Denver
The Chargers are riding high, and what better place to stop than in Denver? They got the win in Week 6 against the Broncos, but Denver comes out firing on all cylinders in this rematch.
Week 9 – vs. Tennessee
Man, do I love watching Derrick Henry run the football. The guy is a beast, and I see him one day leading the Titans back to the postseason for the first time since 2008–just not this year. The Chargers will be able to keep Marcus Mariota in the pocket for what will be a low-scoring game.
Week 10 – vs. Miami
Me and my buddy, who’s a Dolphins fan, play a drinking game whenever our teams play each other. For every time the Chargers score, I buy him a shot; for every time the Dolphins score, he buys me a shot. In 2014, the Dolphins blanked the Bolts, 37-0. By the end of the night, I thought a yellow Corvette was a beautiful blonde girl. But last season, the Chargers got the win in San Diego (30-14). The Dolphins head back to San Diego in 2016, and even though I’ll be losing money paying for shots, I’ll be #winning in real life.
Week 11 – at Houston
The Chargers are 7-3. Even though three losses have come by the hands of AFC West opponents, they are feeling good. But this is where the team falls apart. The Texans, who finished first in the AFC South last season, have a stellar defense. Now, the offense looks much improved with running back Lamar Miller, quarterback Brock Osweiler and rookie receiver Will Fuller. Don’t forget, they have a beast in DeAndre Hopkins and decent options behind him with Jaelen Strong, Braxton Miller and Fuller. I think their defense keeps the Bolts in check, with Jadeveon Clowney having a big game.
Week 12 – vs Tampa Bay
The Chargers got a win against Marcus Mariota, the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft, but they won’t against Jameis Wintson, the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft. I like the Bucs this season. They’re competing in a tough division, but receiver Mike Evans, running backs Doug Martin and Charles Sims along with Winston ain’t no joke. Like the Chargers, Tampa Bay’s offensive and defensive lines ranked poorly last season. They have a revamped secondary with the selection of Vernon Hargreaves, and the team has studs in DT Gerald McCoy and LB Lavonte David. Rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo hears voices in his head to make the game-winning field goal, and he does just that.
Week 13 – at Carolina
On paper, the Panthers look even better than they did last year. Man, their receivers are so tall. Kelvin Benjamin, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, will be dominating at this point. The Chargers and Panthers don’t play often, but the Bolts are 1-4 against Carolina. Make it 1-5.
Week 14 – vs Oakland
Chargers fans will be giving up after a three-game losing streak. Heck, Mike McCoy might not even be there to give his bland postgame press conferences. But then out of nowhere, the Chargers show a sign of life. Remember when Mack won the game for the Raiders in Week 5? Joey Bosa, the No. 3 overall pick, sacks Derek Carr to end this game as the Chargers snap their losing streak. Bosa’s mom will do the postgame interview.
Week 15 – at Cleveland
Melvin Ingram, who’s in a contract year, is still healthy and gets a career-high five sacks against the Browns, while former Brown Travis Benjamin burns the Browns’ defense twice for two touchdowns. Take that, Dawg Pound! (Cavs got you a championship, so I don’t want to see any pouting this year).
Week 16 – vs. Kansas City
And here we go. For the third time in four years, the Chargers will play the Chiefs in the season finale. In 2013, the Chargers edged the Chiefs in OT, which sent them to the playoffs. In 2014, the Chargers were in a “win-and-in” position, but the Chiefs-and their seven defensive sacks-put an end to the Bolts’ season.
At this rate, the Chargers, surprising the world, will be on the brink of the playoffs at 9-6. With 10 wins being the magic number to clinch, will the Chargers be able to prove everybody wrong? Or will they fall into mediocrity once again? The offensive line is still intact, giving Rivers enough time to find No. 1 receiver Keenan Allen for the go-ahead TD. Verrett, who turns in another Pro Bowl year, picks off Alex Smith in the closing moments of the game. The Chargers get some revenge, ending a five-game losing streak against the Chiefs, and more importantly, make it back to the postseason.
You’re thinking, the Chargers have no chance this season. A lot of things have to go right (stay healthy, run the ball, stop the run) for them to have a good year, but they are very overlooked going into the season. I remember in 2013, nobody gave the Bolts a chance, and they made it to the second round of the playoffs with that roster. In 2015, the New York Jets, coming off a 4-12 season, surprised many by finishing 10-6.
The Chargers can’t go winless in the division for the second straight year, and even though the AFC West is tough, going 4-4 is plausible. Outsiders will laugh at this 10-6 prediction. A lot of these games could go either way, but if the Chargers stay healthy, don’t be surprised if they are one of the teams still playing in January.