Not a down of pro football has been played this season, but that doesn't stop both the fans and the media from peering into their crystal balls and handing out predictions as to which NFL teams will make the playoffs, and which teams will be watching the tournament from home. The San Diego Chargers are widely regarded as one of the most talented teams in the National Football League, but will talent alone be enough to get the Bolts into the postseason?
The following piece was written by new BoltHype contributor, Dan McLellan:
A response to Mike Florio’s Sporting News Article: “Six NFL playoff teams that might not make it back”
Mike Florio of Sporting News deserves credit for being honest in describing the process by which he and other so-called experts pick NFL playoff teams long prior to the start of the season. Typically the experts play it safe.
Florio wrote, “They look at the dozen franchises that made it a year ago, and they replace maybe the bottom team in each conference's playoff field with a team that was close to qualifying.” He then goes on to explain that historically approximately half of the twelve playoff teams from any given season do not make it back the next year. Therefore, in his Florio’s version of playoff prognostication, he chooses six teams from last year to not make it back this year. Among his selections were the San Diego Chargers.
Following Florio’s formula of simply replacing six teams that almost did not make the playoffs with teams that were close, the Chargers are the most logical selection to return to the playoffs this year. After all, last season the Bolts posted a regular season record of just 8-8. However, strictly going on last year’s record to evaluate future performance lacks a critical overall assessment of the Chargers organization.
In selecting the Chargers to not go back to the postseason, Florio failed to take several things into account regarding the current overall state of the San Diego Chargers. Specifically, he did not account for the current health of returning stars, the likely reemergence of the Chargers’ pass rush, the incorporation of Darren Sproles into the offensive playbook, and finally the weakness of the rest of the AFC West.
At Mini Camp, Chargers Head Coach Norv Turner claimed that the Chargers will be coming into Training Camp healthier than they have been in nearly two years. Antonio Cromartie, Antonio Gates, Nate Kaeding, Shawne Merriman, LaDainian Tomlinson, and others look to start the season healthy. These players were injured or suffered injuries at the end of last season when the Chargers won five consecutive games, including a playoff victory against the Indianapolis Colts. Adding all those players back into the Chargers’ arsenal is equivalent to the Chargers selecting all of their draft choices in the first round. And, of course, these are proven, Pro Bowl caliber veterans.
Speaking of the draft, the Chargers’ first round selection was outside linebacker Larry English. English will likely be accompanying a healthy Merriman and Shawn Philips. With Merriman out last year, Philips was not as effective as he was in previous seasons. This is because he drew a lot of double-team coverage previously allocated to Merriman. Now, with the return of Merriman and the addition of English, it is conceivable that the Chargers will move Philips to the inside linebacker position in order to get all three of them on the line at the same time to rush opposing quarterbacks. Not only should this mean more sacks for the Chargers defense, it should also mean more rushed passes leading to more interceptions. Look for Cromartie and Quentin Jammer to each have the type of year we expected of them a year ago. Cromartie has already demonstrated at Mini Camp that with a healed hip he can once again make explosive breaks towards the football.
Another key element in the Chargers’ success this year will be that Darren Sproles will have specific offensive plays incorporated into the playbook for him. Last year, as with every year since Tomlinson has been a Charger, the playbook was designed around Tomlinson’s abilities. Sproles has a different body type and is a different style of running back than Tomlinson. Despite this, last year Sproles did a phenomenal job filling the shoes of an injured Tomlinson. This year the Chargers will come into the season knowing that Sproles will be an integral part of the offense and the team will create plays specifically for Sproles. Do not be surprised if the Chargers find creative ways to use both Tomlinson and Sproles at the same time. Imagine . . . Tomlinson getting a handoff then pulling up and throwing the ball to Sproles. That would be exciting!
Finally, according to Florio’s method for “playing it safe” in selecting the Chargers to not return to the playoffs this year, he would need to identify an AFC West team that was close to winning the division a year ago that has a legitimate shot at doing so this season. The only team that this scenario applies to is the Denver Broncos who, along with the Chargers, were 8-8 in 2008. However, Denver has apparently self-destructed this off-season with the firing of Head Coach Mike Shanahan and the trading away of Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler. The Kansas City Chiefs (2-14) and the Oakland Raiders (5-11) were not close to competing for the playoff spot last year. They also experienced head coaching changes and will be learning and implementing new playbooks this season. The Chiefs should be better this season because last year they were competitive in many games and they have added quarterback Matt Cassel and former Charger Mike Goff. However, they still have a way to go to improve from a two-win season to winning the division. As for the Raiders, they are so concerned that third-year quarterback JaMarcus Russell will not develop into his potential that they signed 39-year old Jeff Garcia to back him up. In a recent Florio article, “IDing 10 potential landing spots for Michael Vick,” he argues that if on July 20 NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell clears Vick to play, Vick could find a home in Oakland. This scenario is a real possibility. However, Vick becoming a Raider this season would likely bode well for the Chargers, for he has not seen NFL action in over two years.
Articles like Florio’s are frustrating for Chargers’ fans, especially when one does their due diligence and analyzes the big picture. Clearly, not only do the Chargers still have all the ingredients be a playoff team again, they may actually be improved enough to finally bring San Diego a Super Bowl title. Then again, perhaps Charger fans should spin Florio’s article in a positive light. Last year the Chargers came into the season with an elevated collective ego from all the preseason hype of the national media selecting them as the presumptive Super Bowl champs. Maybe with press like Florio’s article, this year the Chargers will come into the season focused simply on winning.
About The Author: Dan McLellan is a sports journalist for SanDiego.com. He also produces and hosts his own San Diego sports podcasts. You can find the complete collection of his writings and podcasts at his blog, SanDiegoSports.typepad.com.
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