Year after year, the ever-popular publication Sports Illustrated attempts to accurately forecast the upcoming NFL season from the division winners the whole way through the postseason and Super Bowl. For 2011, the Chargers have been given the dubious distinction of being SI’s choice to represent the AFC in Super Bowl.
If we take a look at past predictions from the well-respected Peter King at SI, the magic eight ball was amazingly on target a year ago with the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers meeting up as forecast by the long-time NFL analyst. The only erroneous prediction was that King actually had Pittsburgh claiming the Lombardi trophy rather than the Packers who eventually hoisted their namesake hardware for the fourth time in franchise history.
The season prior was a swing and a miss for King as he called for a New England Patriots versus Chicago Bears Super Bowl. New England did manage to win its division, but they were quickly dispatched of in the opening round of the playoffs by the Baltimore Ravens while the Bears finished below .500 and never sniffed the postseason let alone the big game.
This wide range of possibilities makes the business of predicting the future in the NFL a perilous task to say the least. With teams going from worst to first in their respective divisions on a yearly basis, it might be just as precise to play rock, paper, scissors in order to pick your two Super Bowl participants from year to year.
For the sake of conversation however, Sports Illustrated again put out their forecasts calling for the Bolts to meet the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XLVI. The game will be held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the first time ever and it is probably the first time that two professional football teams are hoping to be in the state of Indiana in early February.
The logistics behind picking the Falcons and Chargers to meet in the big game this year makes sense from a contrarian’s perspective as most have some combination of the Packers, Eagles, Steelers, or Patriots surviving to play in February. Still the logical picks that make so much sense in August always seem to leave people scratching their heads in the middle of November during the stretch run.
What King must be counting on the most is a productive year from running back Ryan Mathews in his second season and a lot more touches in Norv Turner’s pass-happy offense. If there is one thing that has held true throughout the league over time it is the idea that a balanced offense is necessary to win championships. Even the most passive, run dominant clubs in history had the ability to beat defenses deep at any given moment should the opportunity present itself.
San Diego also needs to maintain their continuity on defense despite some roster turnover and a new coordinator at the helm in Greg Manusky. There is no doubt that the new style will be at least slightly more aggressive than Rivera’s predominantly zone concepts, but several veteran additions as well as a youth infusion in the secondary could make this a boom or bust season for the Bolts defensively.
Perhaps the most important thing to look at when trying to predict a potential path through the playoffs is the competition within the conference. There’s no doubt that the New York Jets have once again loaded up in hopes of chasing down a ring this year, but the Patriots, Steelers, and Ravens are all formidable opponents as well who cannot be underestimated. And don’t count out a possible darkhorse in the Houston Texans who have finally made the transformation to a 3-4 defense and should be in the mix for their first playoff berth in franchise history.
Talent is always what analysts point to as the most vital aspect to making deep playoff runs, but the Chargers could argue with those ideals for days on end. San Diego has been widely considered one of the league’s most talented clubs for a handful of years now, yet due to suspect coaching they have been unable to get over the final hurdle and into the big game. Coaching will play a huge role in just how well the Bolts fair in the upcoming season and Turner’s hands off approach with minimal motivation may finally be less of a detriment to the team this time around.
With vocal leaders like Philip Rivers on offense and veteran additions from Bob Sanders to Takeo Spikes on the other side of the ball, the locker room seems fully capable of self-motivation in 2011. It’s been a yearly ritual to predict the Chargers making it to the big game in February, but there is a feeling in the air that this may finally be the payoff for those prognostications.
Now it’s your chance to be heard. What do you think the chances are that Peter King and SI predicts the Super Bowl accurately two years in a row? Will Ryan Mathews have a coming out party in his sophomore season or will the Bolts’ back again be troubled by injuries and lack of touches? Is the change from Rivera to Manusky the biggest question mark for the defense heading into the year or will there be another pressing issue as the season moves along? Which AFC team do you see as the biggest competition for the Chargers if they want to make King’s prediction come true? Will coaching be the only reason that this team fails to live up to expectations in the coming year? Please fill up the comments section below with your thoughts!
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