San Diego Chargers – (2006 = 14-2) – Projected 2007 record – 13-3
In 2006 the San Diego Chargers garnered two distinct labels. They were the most talented team in the NFL and the most disappointing in the playoffs. After fizzling out in a great game to the New England Patriots, the Chargers felt that they needed to make a change and hired former San Francisco offensive coordinator Norv Turner to try to get them over the hump, and reach a Super Bowl. And the Chargers better hurry up and get there LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego’s best player, turned 28 years old this offseason. This number might not seem like much to the casual football fan, but 28 to 29 is usually the age in which running backs begin to deteriorate, and without Tomlinson and backup running back Michael Turner – who will surely leave this offseason – the Chargers chances of winning the Super Bowl decrease dramatically.
While Tomlinson is great – the best running back in the NFL - the Chargers line of great players does not stop with him. On the Chargers’ defense – one of the best and most aggressive in the league – San Diego contains stud nose tackle Jamal Williams and All Pro linebacker/defensive end Shawne Merriman. Williams – one of the most underrated players in the league – commands a double team on every run play and is the big reason why San Diego’s run defense was the second best in the league last year behind Minnesota. In the other facet of the defense’s focus – the passing game – Merriman wreaks havoc upon opposing offensive tackles and quarterbacks alike. With 17.5 sacks in only twelve games due to a suspension because of steroid use, Merriman was the most dominant pass rusher in 2006 and looks to replicate his previous season.
But things should be much more difficult for Merriman this season because of the almost certain increase in amount of double teams that he will face this year. But like other great defensive ends in the league – Dwight Freeney and Jason Taylor to name two – Merriman’s double teams should allow other defensive players to better rush the quarterback. Another pitfall that might hinder Merriman’s season is an aspect that has not received much attention this offseason, and that is the issues with his steroid use. We don’t know what he needed it for, for how long did Merriman use steroids, and hundreds of other things involving Merriman’s performance and his steroid use. That will be one of the most interesting things to watch with San Diego this year and something that I will particularly pay close attention to as the NFL season progress, and that is how will Merriman perform once he is off the juice.
Star to Watch – The most important player to the Chargers offense is – without a doubt – LaDainian Tomlinson, but the player that must be effective to keep opposing defenses honest against the run is quarterback Philip Rivers. Rivers was stellar last year after spending two years on the bench with a 92.0 quarterback rating and throwing for more than 3200 yards in his first season as starting quarterback, but the jury is still out on him. Many times last year – against Kansas City and Oakland in particular – Rivers looked incredibly shaky and was bailed out by the fantastic play on Tomlinson and his defense, and he will have to play consistently in 2007-08 for the Chargers to have any chance of reaching their ultimate goal.
Players to Watch – The San Diego linebacking core is relatively inexperienced after replacing Donnie Edwards and Randall Godfrey with the likes of first year starters Matt Wilhelm and Scott Cooper. Both Wilhelm and Cooper’s importance is magnified by having one of the best nose tackles in the game -Jamal Williams - keeping offensive lineman off both linebackers, freeing them to make tackles against opposing running backs. Other players to watch on the defensive side of the Chargers are in the secondary, where the Chargers will have to improve on their lackluster pass attack in order to win the Super Bowl. Especially watch the disappointing Quentin Jammer who the Chargers are still waiting to fulfill his top five selection potential, and rookie starting safety Eric Weddle who – as all reports from San Diego training camp are saying – has played extraordinarily well early on.
What I expect to see from the San Diego Chargers:
- LaDainian Tomlinson will not have the same success as last season. Partly because teams will focus more on stopping the run and also because the Chargers want to use Michael Turner much more often to save Tomlinson for the playoffs.
- Philip Rivers will step up and have a stellar season throwing to the unstoppable Antonio Gates and emerging wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who should have a breakout this season, and this time Rivers will lead the Chargers out of the first round of the playoffs.
- The San Diego offensive line will be excellent both run and pass blocking - as it was all of last year - lead by stud guard Mike Goff and, what should have been the offensive rookie of the year last year, Marcus McNeil.
- The San Diego three defensive lineman – Williams, Igor Olshansky, and Luis Castillo will be the best three defensive lineman against the run this year, and Castillo will see his sacks rise to above ten (an astronomical number for a 3-4 defensive end).
- The San Diego linebackers and secondary will be very inconsistent at the beginning of the season, but will eventually settle down into above average groups. Merriman and Shaun Philips will be great at the outside linebacker positions rushing the passer, but the aforementioned Cooper and Wilhelm will struggle at times this year in coverage and against the run. The San Diego secondary will face a lot of pressure this year due to the aggressive nature of the Charger’s defense with a lot of the cornerbacks and safety’s time spent in man to man press coverage.
How the San Diego Chargers will fare in 2007-08:
The Chargers will finish 12-4 to 13-3 in a pretty lousy division, and will reach the AFC conference championship beating either Baltimore or Indianapolis in their first game. But once the Chargers reach the conference championship the coaching of Norv Turner and his staff will kill the team’s chances, and Turner will somehow – whether it be poor play calling or bad time management - be the one that prevents the Chargers from reaching and winning the 2008 Super Bowl in Arizona.