The NFL season is just weeks away and Sports Interaction is bringing you previews of every team and division ahead of the big kick-off. Al Dannity gets things under way with a look at the San Diego Chargers.
Off-season changes Two big names left the Bolts in the off-season, meaning this will be a younger and fresher unit than the team that won the AFC West in 2009. Veteran LaDainian Tomlinson and troubled cornerback Antonio Cromartie both left San Diego to play for the Jets, the very team that sent the Chargers packing in the playoffs. Ryan Mathews should prove an able replacement for the fading Tomlinson at running back. The rookie out of Fresno State was a monster in College Football and should keep NFL betting fans happy, producing far better numbers than LT.
Keep an eye on the Vincent Jackson situation as it could yet turn ugly. The wide receiver received a three game suspension for breaching the NFL’s personal conduct policy and is also involved in a contract dispute with the Chargers. After posting career-high numbers in 2009, his 2010 season might well go off the rails.
Mark your calendar San Diego enters the 2010 season with an enviable schedule, with the NFL odds certain to be in the Chargers’ favor for each of their first six games. The visit of New England to Qualcomm Stadium in week 7 will tell us a lot about the progress made by this younger Chargers team. That’s followed by a visit from the Titans and a trip to Houston, with both games likely to have serious playoff implications for San Diego’s opponents.
San Diego’s road game with Indianapolis in week 12 will likely be the last real test for the Chargers. The Colts may have a better playoff pedigree but San Diego has Indy’s number and I like the Chargers to shine on the road. The only other game of consequence on the schedule is a trip to Cincinnati in week 16 but I expect the playoff picture to be pretty clear for San Diego by the time that comes around.
What to expect The arrival of Mathews means we can expect a great focus on the ground game from San Diego, having lacked a bruising running back in recent seasons. The continued weakness of the AFC West, despite some interesting off-season moves by Denver and Oakland, means the divisional title should be a formality. A playoff bye or even home field advantage through the playoffs is certainly a possibility, although given the scale of the rebuilding job under way I think they will just miss out.
This year the post-season should see a better performance from the Chargers. Cromartie may have been explosive on the field but he was also prone to notable errors, including one against the Jets that ended San Diego’s season. A more disciplined unit will stand up better and could hang around a while in January.