San Diego Chargers 2014 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

After posting QB ratings of 100+ for 3 straight seasons from 2008-2010, Rivers saw his QB rating drop into the 80s in both 2011 and 2012. There were rumors of injuries and age, going into his age 32 season, was also seen as a factor. Aging, with just 2 years left on his deal, there was talk that the Chargers could draft a quarterback of the future behind Rivers. He wasn’t supposed to improve going into 2013. Instead, Rivers found the fountain of youth in 2013, completing 69.5% of his passes for an average of 8.23 YPA, 32 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, a QB rating of 105.5, tying his career high.

He led the Chargers to the playoffs with a record of 9-7, pulling an upset in Cincinnati in the first round, and came within a touchdown of knocking off the Broncos in Denver in the next round, which would have been the second time the Chargers won in Denver last season. The Chargers were able to do this despite a defense that ranked 28th, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 75.36% rate, because Rivers led an offense that was 2nd in the NFL moving the chains at a 78.26% rate. Only Denver (81.09%) was better and the Chargers were over a percent better than third place New Orleans (76.98%).

How was Rivers able to turn it around? Well, for one, a new coaching staff led by offensive minded Head Coach Mike McCoy and talented offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt replaced the old Norv Turner led staff. McCoy and Whisenhunt built an offense more suited to Rivers’ strengths and the benefits were obvious. Rivers also had more talent around him. In the pre-season last year, I did a list of the top-200 players in the NFL. The Chargers had just one, safety Eric Weddle, the fewest in the NFL. They didn’t have a single one on the offensive side of the ball. Former GM AJ Smith screwed up the Chargers’ last few drafts horribly and didn’t do much to remedy the situation in free agency.

New GM Tom Telesco did a great job in his first off-season with the team, despite not much to work with. Drafting DJ Fluker in the first round helped, but the real steals were getting Keenan Allen in the 3rd round getting and King Dunlap and Danny Woodhead on cheap contracts in free agency. The Chargers also got vintage years from aging veterans Antonio Gates and Nick Hardwick and a breakout year from former first round pick Ryan Mathews. The defense was still a mess, as I mentioned earlier, but the offense was fantastic last season. Rivers did a fantastic job with a solid, but unspectacular offensive supporting cast and was, in my mind, the non-Peyton Manning MVP of last season.

Rivers and the Chargers’ offense might not be as good this season and fall back to earth a little bit. Rivers is going into his age 33 season coming off of a career year. Ken Whisenhunt is now the head coach in Tennessee. However, the offense will be the strength of the team. If they make the playoffs again, it’ll be on the strength of their offense. They will probably have to play noticeably better defensively to make the playoffs again.

Grade: A-

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

I mentioned Keenan Allen earlier. Out of anyone outside of Philip Rivers, he was their most valuable player last season. Allen was seen as a likely first round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft going into the 2012 season, after catching 98 passes for 1343 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2011, but a down 2012 season (61/737/6) caused by knee problems plus a 4.77 40 time dropped him to the 3rd round.

The Chargers wisely picked him up and even though he didn’t play at all week 1 and didn’t move into the starting lineup until week 4, he still caught 71 passes for 1046 yards and 8 touchdowns as a rookie. Rookie wide receivers aren’t supposed to get it this quickly. Since 2005, 31 receivers have gone in the 1st round. They’ve averaged 41 catches for 558 yards and 3 touchdowns per season. Allen blew those numbers out of the water and he was a 3rd round pick. Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson were top-3 picks and didn’t come close to what Keenan Allen did this year as rookies (58/780/8 and 48/756/4 respectively). Allen continued this strong play into the post-season, where he caught 8 passes for 163 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2 games.

Allen did all of this despite “only” running 510 pass snaps and seeing the bulk of the defense’s attention as a #1 wide receiver as a rookie. He averaged 2.06 yards per route run, which was 15th in the NFL among eligible wide receivers, between Brandon Marshall and Dez Bryant. And it wasn’t like the Chargers were forcing him the ball. Allen’s 101 targets were 31st in the NFL (he caught 70.3% of them) and Philip Rivers had a 118.1 QB rating throwing to Allen, which was 7th best in the NFL in terms of wide receiver QB rating when thrown to. That’s a big part of the reason why Rivers was able to post a 105.5 QB rating in general and why the Chargers’ offense was so good last season. He was Pro Football Focus’ 10th ranked wide receiver overall and 8th ranked wide receiver in pass catching grade.

Allen doesn’t have a ton of long-term upside because of his relatively limited athleticism. Billed as a pro ready wide receiver, Allen isn’t a phenomenal athlete and I see him more as an Anquan Boldin or Marques Colston type long-term (non-first round pick wide receivers who had 1000+ yard rookie seasons) rather than an AJ Green type (first round pick wide receiver who had a 1000+ yard rookie season). Colston and Boldin are both big bodied receivers who never really improved significantly over their strong rookie years, though both still have had fantastic careers. However, Allen should be even more productive this season simply by virtue of the fact that he’ll play more this season. An extra 50 routes run should be another 100 yards. I could see him in the 1100-1200 yard range this season, even if he doesn’t improve much in terms of his pure abilities.

Outside of Allen, they don’t have a ton of talent in the receiving corps though. Antonio Gates turned in a vintage season last year, thanks to the new coaching staff, Rivers’ improved play, more talent around him, and suddenly solid health injury wise. Gates caught 77 passes for 872 yards and 4 touchdowns, his highest receiving total since 2009 and played all 16 games, something else he hadn’t done since 2009. He averaged 1.59 yards per route run (on 549 routes run), 13th among tight ends and he was Pro Football Focus’ 16th ranked tight end in pass catching grade, though he was horrible as a blocker, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd worst in that regard.

He could have another solid season, but now he heads into his age 34 season. His 2012 season in which he caught 49 passes for 538 yards and 7 touchdowns is still fairly recent and relevant. He also missed 10 games from 2010-2012. If he starts to show his age more, it’ll probably be more snaps for Ladarius Green, a 2012 4th round pick and Gates’ heir apparent. Green only ran 141 routes last season, but impressed, catching 17 passes for 376 yards and 3 touchdowns, an average of 2.67 yards per route run.

If he had played enough snaps to qualify, he would have been Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked tight end last season, despite his limited playing time (370 snaps). He averaged an absurd 22.1 yards per catch (including 9.3 yards after catch per catch) and established himself as a dangerous weapon in the seam. His experience is still limited (409 career snaps) and the 6-6 240 pounder isn’t much of an inline blocker, but the future still seems bright for him, especially if Gates starts struggling and Green starts getting more playing time as a result. John Phillips, meanwhile, is their 3rd tight end their blocking specialist, but he’s coming off of a torn ACL suffered in December. When healthy, he’s alright at what he does.

Opposite Keenan Allen at wide receiver, things aren’t great. Vincent Brown was the starter last season and will probably continue to serve in that role this season. The 2011 3rd round pick was a popular breakout candidate going into 2012, after flashing as a rookie and in Training Camp, but broke his ankle in the pre-season and missed the entire season. He was healthy last season, but, in his 3rd year in the league, didn’t prove to be anything more than a marginal starter at best. He caught 41 passes for 472 yards and a touchdown on 518 routes run, 0.91 yards per route run, 88th out of 94 eligible. Much of that had to do with him just not being targeted a ton and he did catch 63.1% of his targets and grade out about average on Pro Football Focus, but he’s not a real asset in the passing game.

Eddie Royal will continue being the slot specialist. He ran 437 routes last season and 85.8% of them were on the slot, the 5th highest percentage in the NFL. His 8 touchdowns were impressive, but it’s ultimately unsustainable for a 5-10 slot specialist to continue averaging 8 touchdowns per 47 catches (10 touchdowns on his other 229 career touchdowns). He took those 47 catches for 631 yards, 1.43 yards per route run, which is pretty middle of the pack, though he did grade out above average on Pro Football Focus, catching 71.2% of his targets. Royal had a strong rookie year in Denver in 2008, catching 91 passes for 980 yards and 3 touchdowns, but he managed just 138 catches over the next 4 seasons combined before finally finding a fit last year in Mike McCoy’s offense. He’ll continue being solid in that role, but he’s a specialized player.

Malcom Floyd is the wild card in the receiving mix if he can come back from a serious neck injury. That’s up for debate though and it’s looking like 50/50 that he even plays next season, in what would be his age 33 season. Even when he was younger and healthier, Floyd was a marginal receiver, never going above 856 yards receiving, even in an explosive San Diego offense. He’s also only played in 90 games over 10 seasons in his career. He’s unlikely to contribute much this season. Overall, the Chargers’ receiving corps is only solid. Keenan Allen is one of the top receivers in the NFL and maybe Antonio Gates has another good year left in him or Ladarius Green can break out, but other than that there’s not much to be excited about. Philip Rivers still has the ability to get the most out of them though.

Grade: B

Offensive Line

I mentioned King Dunlap earlier as one of the steals of the off-season for new Chargers GM Tom Telesco. Dunlap took a lot of heat in Philadelphia in 2012, when the 2008 7th round pick and career backup took over for an injured Jason Peters at left tackle. Dunlap was blamed for a lot of the Eagles’ problems on the offensive line and on the team in general. In reality, he actually played pretty well, grading out above average on Pro Football Focus, including 21st in pass blocking. Though he was a weak run blocker, he only allowed 5 sacks, 4 hits, and 18 hurries on 838 snaps, despite Michael Vick’s tendency to hold the ball too long.

The Chargers were able to get him on a 2-year, 3.95 million dollar deal and he proved to be more than worth it after he won the starting job in Training Camp. Despite missing 5 games with injury, Dunlap graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked offensive tackle, allowing 3 sacks, 3 hits, and 13 hurries. No offensive tackle played fewer snaps and graded out higher. He was a huge part of why the Chargers were able to turn around what was the #31 pass blocking offensive line in terms of pass block efficiency in 2012. They still weren’t great (24th), but it was enough of an improvement to help Rivers look like his old self again. Dunlap might not be quite as good in 2014, but he could also be even better if he’s able to stay healthy and on the field for more games.

DJ Fluker was another big addition upfront. The 11th pick in the draft, Fluker graded out about average on Pro Football Focus, which was better than anything they’ve had at the position in a while. He was a better run blocker than pass protector, but he held his own in pass protection. Going into his age 2nd year in the NFL, only his age 23 season, the massive 6-5 319 pound bruiser could easily be better and is an obvious breakout candidate. He started last season strong, but struggled when forced to move to left tackle when Dunlap was hurt. He’s much better on the right side, his collegiate position.

The other big “improvement” on the offensive line for the Chargers from 2012 to 2013 was at center. There wasn’t a personnel change as Nick Hardwick remained the starting center, but the aging veteran had a vintage season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked center. He has a history of being a solid center, grading out 17th in 2010 and 14th in 2011, but he graded out 31st out of 36 eligible in 2012. It’s possible 2012 was just an aberration and centers certainly can have longer careers than most positions, but it is hard to trust he’ll definitely have another solid season, now going into his age 33 season.

The Chargers’ biggest weakness upfront is at guard. Left guard isn’t quite as big of a problem. Chad Rinehart graded out slightly below average on Pro Football Focus last season. He could be better in 2014. After all, he was Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked guard in 2011. That being said, that was his only other season as a full-time starter as he’s struggled with injury problems throughout his career. He played in 15 games in 2011, but he’s never played all 16 games. Last season, he played 11 games. He’s still probably locked in as a starter.

At right guard, Jeromey Clary might not be locked in. A below average right tackle earlier in his career, who graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 73rd ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible in 2011, the Chargers moved the aging Clary to right guard in hopes of making life easier for him inside and turning him into a solid starter. That didn’t work out as Clary graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 72nd ranked guard out of 81 eligible, despite making just 11 starts at the position (he made 4 starts at right tackle, where he wasn’t much better). Now going into his age 31 season, he could lose his starting job. The Chargers can save 4.55 million in cash and cap space if they cut him going into his contract year.

The issue is they don’t really have anyone to replace him. Johnnie Troutman is their reserve guard and 6th offensive lineman. He didn’t play a snap as a rookie in 2012 thanks to injury, after getting drafted in the 5th round. However, he played quite a bit last season, seeing 648 snaps and making 9 starts (when Clary moved to right tackle and when Rinehart was hurt). He struggled mightily though, grading out as Pro Football Focus 59th ranked guard out of 81 eligible despite the somewhat limited playing time. He’d be cheaper than Clary, but he might not be an upgrade. Another option is 3rd round rookie Chris Watt, but it’s hard to trust a 3rd round rookie. It’s still an improved offensive line from 2012, but they have issues.

Grade: B-

Running Backs

Ryan Mathews will continue being the lead back. Mathews was the 12th pick of the 2010 NFL Draft after the Chargers traded up for him. He had a disappointing first 3 years in the league, struggling to stay on the field (missing 10 games in 3 seasons) and totaling 564 carries from 2010-2012. However, he finally put it all together in 2013, rushing for 1255 yards and 6 touchdowns on 285 carries (4.40 yards per carry) and playing all 16 games. He didn’t contribute much in the passing game (26 catches), but he’s shown pass catching ability in the past (50 catches in 2011). He graded out slightly above average on Pro Football Focus. Mathews could have another solid season in 2014, but he could just as easily get hurt.

The Chargers did sign insurance for Mathews in the form of Donald Brown. It was an odd signing as Brown was one of the market’s top running backs and got one of the highest annual salaries on the open market this off-season (3 years, 10.5 million, 4 million guaranteed), but the Chargers didn’t have a real need at running back and didn’t have a ton of cap space to work with. Still, he was reasonably paid and will provide insurance as a backup. He’s expected to get about 5-10 touches per game, at least as long as Mathews is healthy.

Donald Brown has never had more than 150 touches in a season since being drafted in the 1st round in 2009. He averages 4.3 yards per carry for his career and he’s a liability on passing downs as he doesn’t offer much as a pass catcher or pass protector. He had a strong contract year, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, catching 27 passes for 214 yards and scoring a total of 7 times. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 20th ranked running back and ranked 1st in elusive rating. That being said, that was on only 102 carries and 379 total snaps and, given his history, it’s a major leap to suggest he could be a consistently successful lead back if needed. He’s probably best off in this backup role.

Neither Brown nor Mathews showed much as a pass catcher last season, but that’s fine because the Chargers have Danny Woodhead as a pass catching specialist. He caught 76 passes last season on 302 routes run for 609 receiving yards, an average of 2.02 yards per route run, 4th among eligible running backs. He was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked running back in terms of pass catching grade. Only 7 targets thrown to him were incomplete.

He was a big part of the reason why the Chargers were able to turn it around and have a strong offensive year last year. He was Darren Sproles 2.0 for the Chargers, a big part of their short, quick throw offense, something they and Philip Rivers had been missing badly since Sproles left. He’s not much of a rusher though. Woodhead had 106 carries last season, a career high, but only rushed for 4.05 yards per carry. Brown will eat into his carries, which is good, as it’ll allow him to focus more on pass catching.

Grade: B

Defensive Line

I mentioned how bad the defense was last season. They have a chance to be just as bad this season. Eric Weddle was their only top-200 player on defense going into last season and, while they’ll have some guys break into the top-200 on offense, Weddle will remain their only highly ranked defensive player and by a good margin. The Chargers didn’t have much cap room to work with this off-season and they used most of it on Donald Brown, so they were unable to add to the defense in free agency. They’ll need big performances from rookies Jason Verrett and Jeremiah Attachou, who were drafted in the first and second round respectively, as well as a few bounce back years from some guys.

Let’s start with some of the good defensively. Corey Liuget is one of their better defensive players and was one of just a few key role players on defense to grade out about average or above average on Pro Football Focus last year. The exciting part of this for Chargers fans is that last year could have easily been a down year and an anomaly as he was Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked 3-4 defensive end in 2012. The 2011 1st round pick did struggle as a rookie, so 2012 still is the outlier when you look at his still brief career, but there’s a solid chance he bounces back and has an above average year. Part of the culprit for his down year last year might have been that he played the entire season through a torn labrum in his shoulder. The Chargers exercised his 5th year option, as he goes into his 4th year in the league, and a big season could set him up for a solid extension.

Opposite him, things weren’t as good. Kendall Reyes, a 2012 2nd round pick, was solid as a rookie, grading out slightly above average, but he struggled mightily in his sophomore year, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked 3-4 defensive end. He could be better this season, but it’s hard to trust him. Another issue at 3-4 defensive end is the Chargers lack depth. Cam Thomas, their starting nose tackle, is gone, meaning Sean Lissemore, previously a reserve 3-4 defensive end, will move to nose tackle. That will lead to a bigger role for Lawrence Guy, an unproven 2011 7th round pick who did impress on 128 snaps last season. After him on the depth chart is Damik Scafe, a 2011 undrafted free agent who has played 14 career snaps.

Lissemore should do a fine job at nose tackle though and could even be an upgrade over Cam Thomas, an average starting nose tackle who left for Pittsburgh this off-season. Lissemore is undersized for a nose tackle at 6-3 298, but he has a solid history as a situational run stopper, excelling as a run stopper on 282 total snaps in 2011 and playing well as a run stopper on 216 total snaps in 2013, though the 2010 7th round pick did have a down year in 2012 on 329 snaps. Still, he seems suited to be a starting two-down part-time base player in San Diego’s defense. If he isn’t, the Chargers would likely have to turn to 5th round rookie Ryan Carrethers. Carrethers, unfortunately, is only a pure nose tackle at 6-1 337 and couldn’t really provide depth at any other defensive line position.

Grade: B-

Linebackers

At outside linebacker, the Chargers are banking on two outside linebackers coming off of serious injuries. One of them is Melvin Ingram, a 2012 1st round pick who tore his ACL last May. Ingram was decent as a rookie in 2012 on 475 snaps, but was unable to improve in his 2nd season in the league because of the injury. Ingram eventually returned for the final 4 games of the regular season (playing 122 combined snaps) and was close to a full-time player by the two playoff games, but he struggled and clearly wasn’t 100%. He’ll be 16 months removed from the injury by week 1, but there’s no guarantee he’ll have a breakout year this year. He’s still unproven and still might not be 100%.

Opposite him will be Dwight Freeney, who is coming off of a season ending quad injury suffered in week 4 of last season, the first season of a two-year deal. Freeney was once a dominant edge rusher, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked 4-3 defensive end as recently as 2010. However, he fell to 33rd in 2011 and he was Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2012 out of 34 eligible. Last season, Freeney had a dominant week 1 against Houston, but was just alright in the other 3 weeks before going down. He could have another solid season left in the tank, but he’s going into his age 34 season coming off of a serious injury after three years of significant decline. If he or Melvin Ingram struggle, Jeremiah Attachou, their 2nd round pick, could have a significant role as a rookie. They’d probably prefer him to not have to play a serious role until 2015, after the aging Freeney’s impending free agency.

The Chargers have another aging outside linebacker, Jarret Johnson, a two-down run stopping linebacker who is going into his age 33 season. He’s been playing that role for a while, starting in Baltimore and now in San Diego. He played 446 snaps last season and was Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker. It’s not a particularly important role, but he could easily be solid in it once again. At the very least, having Freeney and Ingram back healthy and adding Attachou to the mix will keep them from having to use the likes of Reggie Walker, Thomas Keiser, Larry English, and Tourek Williams in serious roles again.

At middle linebacker, they are banking on another player with injury issues, Donald Butler. Butler missed 3 games last season and has missed 23 games in 4 seasons since being drafted in the 3rd round in 2010. He also struggled mightily, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 45th ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible. That’s not the norm for him. He was better in 2011 and 2012, when he graded out 15th and 16th respectively, but I didn’t think he was worth much more than a one-year prove it deal this off-season.  Instead, they gave him 51.8 million over 7 seasons. The Chargers can get out of the deal easily after 11.9 million over 1 year and 21 million over 3 years, but those are also both overpays. Provided he’s healthy, he should be better this season, but this was a bad deal.

Manti Te’o will continue to start next to him inside in the Chargers’ 3-4 defense. A 2013 2nd round pick, Te’o also missed time as a rookie, missing 3 games and struggling through 538 snaps in 13 games. He could be better in 2014, but there are no guarantees. Overall, the Chargers should be healthier in their linebacking corps this season (3rd most adjusted games lost by linebackers last season), which is good because their lack of depth was exposed last season, but they still don’t have a ton of talent in the unit.

Grade: B-

Secondary

The Chargers had probably the league’s worst cornerbacks last season, a huge part of the reason why their defense was so awful last season. Shareece Wright, Richard Marshall, Derek Cox, and Johnny Patrick were their top-4 cornerbacks last season. They ranked 102th, 101st, 104th, and 94th respectively out of 110 eligible cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus. Cox and Patrick were let go, while the Chargers retained Shareece Wright, a 2011 3rd round pick, for the contract year of his rookie deal and re-signed Marshall as a free agent. To help solve this problem, the Chargers used their first round pick of Jason Verrett, a cornerback out of TCU.

Verrett will probably immediately be their top cornerback, which tells you how dire their situation at the position is. Verrett could have been the top cornerback off the board if he was 5-11 instead of 5-9 and if he wasn’t coming off of shoulder surgery. He’s best on the slot, but will also have to match up against opponent’s top receivers on the outside. That’s going to be a big task for a rookie who will be behind the 8-ball in terms of practice this off-season as he rehabs that injury. Cornerbacks tend to take a year to get adjusted to the NFL anyway.

After him on the depth chart, everything is up in the air. Shareece Wright is currently penciled in as the other starter. He led Charger cornerbacks in snaps played last season (802 snaps) but, as I mentioned, he was horrible, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 102nd ranked cornerback out of 110 eligible. Last season was his first year as a starter and he played a combined 124 snaps in 2011 and 2012.

Richard Marshall is another veteran holdover from last season, who graded out 101st out of 110 eligible cornerbacks last season. He’s had some better years, like in 2011 when he graded out about average, but he’s going into his age 30 season, missed 12 games in 2012, and was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst cornerback in 2010. Steve Williams, a 2013 5th round pick, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, is also in the mix, but only out of necessity. The fact that he could see significant snaps in 2014 is just a testament to their lack of talent at the cornerback position. He’s unlikely to play well if he does see the field.

Fortunately, things are better at safety for the Chargers. It’s probably the strength of their defense. Marcus Gilchrist played well last season in his first season after converting from cornerback. The 2011 2nd round pick graded out significantly below average in each of his first two seasons in the league at cornerback in 2011 and 2012, but he was Pro Football Focus’ 22nd ranked safety last year. We’ll see if he can keep it up in 2014 in his 2nd year starting at the position. It would be in his best interest, obviously, as he’ll be in a contract year.

Opposite him will be Eric Weddle, who was one of the top players in the NFL going into last season and remains as one of the top players in the NFL. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked safety last season, which was his worst season since 2009, when he graded out 8th. He was 1st in 2012 and 3rd in both 2011 and 2010. He’s easily the only safety in the NFL to grade out top-8 in each of the last 5 seasons and only one other safety (Jairus Byrd) has even done that in each of the last 3 seasons. Weddle is also the only safety to grade out in the top-7 in each of the last 3 seasons.

Even in 2009, his “down” year, it was mostly because he missed 3 games with injury. He hasn’t missed a game since. He doesn’t get the recognition, but he’s one of the top safeties in the NFL. Unlike guys like Earl Thomas (12.8% snaps within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage last season), Devin McCourty (9.1%), and Jairus Byrd (12.1%), who are primarily deep safeties, and guys like Kam Chancellor (69.2%), TJ Ward (65.7%), and Eric Berry (69.7%), who are primarily box safeties, Weddle is dominant in all facets of the game and can line up anywhere in the defensive backfield (46.3% of snaps within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage last season). That’s incredibly impressive. He’s the saving grace on an otherwise weak defense.

Grade: C

Conclusion

I see the Chargers taking a step back on offense this season. Their supporting cast around Rivers offensively is pretty average and Rivers is unlikely to repeat the career year he had last year, especially without Ken Whisenhunt calling plays, in his age 33 season. It’s very hard for any quarterback to get this kind of supporting cast to be among the league’s elite offenses, but that’s what he was able to do last year.

Defensively, however, they should be a little bit better. They didn’t really add much talent to the unit this off-season and they still have a lot of problems, but they should have better injury luck after their lack of depth was badly exposed last season. The Chargers were 5th worst in adjusted games lost last season, 8th worst in adjusted games lost on defense, and 3rd worst in adjusted games lost at linebacker, which I got into detail about earlier.

Another area they were unlucky in was fumble recovery as they were 30th, recovering 39.39% of fumbles. Their -4 turnover margin might not improve drastically if Rivers throws a few more interceptions, but they should recover more fumbles and force more turnovers defensively. The Chargers should be right in the playoff mix right again. I’ll have official win projections at the end of all my season previews, but one thing that could keep them out is their schedule. They had the 26th hardest schedule last year in terms of DVOA. Now they swap out the NFC East and the AFC South for the AFC East and the NFC West. That could lead to an extra loss and an extra loss would have kept them out of the playoffs last season.

Season Prediction: 8-8 2nd in AFC West

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