San Diego Chargers
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2011 Record: 8-8
Key Acquisitions: Atari Bigby, Ronnie Brown, Aubrayo Franklin, Rex Hadnot, Melvin Ingram, Jarret Johnson, Le'Ron McClain, Robert Meachem, Roscoe Parrish, Kendall Reyes, Eddie Royal, Michael Spurlock, Demorrio Williams
Key Departures: Luis Castillo, Patrick Crayton, Kris Dielman, Tommie Harris, Vincent Jackson, Marcus McNeill
Phillip Rivers had a down year. He was not 100% healthy, though he refuses to admit that. There's no way that the man was at full strength. He's obviously going to turn it around. Ryan Mathews is going to be hurt for the beginning of the year, and his health has been a constant issue throughout his career. Unfortunately, they lost Mike Tolbert to the Panthers. The depth of the wide receiver group is very good. Offensively, this team is pretty set, especially if Mathews stays on the field for most of the season. Defensively, this team has a little bit of talent, but I can see that being a complete disaster like is was last year. The only issue with the Chargers is that they always start the season slowly, and end on a hot streak. It's been a major problem ever since Norv Turner became the coach, no consistency in terms of performance. Turner isn't a very good coach, and I fully expect this team to underachieve once again. Just because they always do that. Every single year.
Phillip Rivers is one of the best QBs in the league (I have him at 6) even though he was bad last year. He still got himself a lot of yards, but the interception totals were very unnerving. He'll bounce back. I don't even have doubts about that.
Ryan Mathews is really good. I felt that he would make the jump to an elite running back this year, and he still might, but I'm afraid that he'll be sidelined a lot during the rest of his time in the NFL. His young career has been littered with injuries and it's probably going to continue. He'll most likely begin playing sometime in September, and he'll be a shot in the arm for this team. Ronnie Brown will have to hold it down in his absence, but he's been virtually non-existent for a while. He was a non factor last year with the Eagles, but I think he'll be at least serviceable in San Diego.
Losing Vincent Jackson is more insignificant than you would think. I'm not a fan on his. I am however a fan of Malcolm Floyd as a #2 receiver, but not as the top guy. Vincent Brown's broken ankle is a blow, but the other guys are pretty good. Robert Meachem and Roscoe Parrish have both had success over throughout their careers as speedy weapons downfield. Neither of them have ever, nor will be asked to play on every down. Eddie Royal was very good in Denver, when he was not hurt. I think he'll prove to be a very good pickup for this team.
Antonio Gates is consistently a great tight end, when he's on the field. The problem is no one knows whether or not he will be on the field. It looks like he's at full strength right now, but don't expect that to last very long.
The offensive line has a couple of holes. Jeromey Clary and Rex Hadnot are both disasters. Both are probably going to be starting for this team. Clary rivals Wayne Hunter when it comes to pure ineptitude, but I still give Hunter the edge. Outside of those guys, the line is pretty good. Nick Hardwick is a great center, who didn't allow a sack last year. Jared Gaither is a really good tackle, but it would help if he can stay healthy. That helps.
The defensive line has nobody that can consistently apply pressure to the quarterback. Jaques Cesaire and Antonio Garay are pedestrian at their respective positions, and this line isn't going to scare anybody. Especially when they send the 3 man rush. Unless they are being blocked by Wayne Hunter. Melvin Ingram looks to improve the terrible pass rush. He's going to make an immediate impact as a threat in pass defense. Jarrett Johnson is a good run defender, while Shaun Phillips is a very good pass rusher. He wasn't at his best last year, but he'll form a nice duo with Ingram. Takeo Spikes is still in the NFL. Yeah, I know right. He's a non-factor at this point, but he did have a very good career. The production just isn't consistent anymore.
The secondary is going to be bad. It was terrible last year, and it will be terrible again. Quentin Jammer is old and getting slower, and both he and Antoine Cason aren't very good at coverage. Atari Bigby is a mediocre at best safety. Eric Weddle is the one who will carry the burden of the mistakes made by the corners and Bigby. He's really good, but I don't know if leaving it all to him is fair.
In 2010, the Chargers were the only team that I have ever seen miss the playoffs because of their special teams. They kept getting punts blocked (especially by the Raiders) and missing kicks and giving up big returns. It was pure hilarity to watch, but torture for all fans of the Bolts. Nick Novak and Nate Kaeding will battle for the kicker job. Novak did well when Kaeding went down last year, and they might decide to continue with him. Mike Scifres is an elite punter. He knows how to back a team up against their own endzone. Michael Spurlock and Eddie Royal will be the ones returning kicks. Royal is a dynamic punt returner who had some success doing it in Denver. He's a terrible receiver and okay kick returner. He'll have his moments.
8-8, 3rd in AFC West