Chargers have eyes on the prize

SAN DIEGO-This could be the year for the San Diego Chargers. Now that Peyton Manning is out of the way with his retirement rally being concluded after Super Bowl 50, the Chargers can finally get down to business of trying to win the AFC West.

It still will not be a picnic or a walk in the park, but the Chargers look to be the prime team in the division to make that push into being a serious playoff contender. The four preseason games the Chargers played were but a formality as they solidified their roster with no real changes or surprises. The last couple of years, Mike McCoy’s Chargers have been teetering on the brink of having something special in place.

This could be the year that San Diego actually puts all of its talented and collective pieces together to do big things. There’s going to be a lot of talk about Super Bowl champions Denver Broncos and their drive to repeat. It’s all outside noise. The chatter is all about nothing.

Melvin Gordon is the Chargers first round draft pick. Photo by Jevone Moore/
Melvin Gordon is the Chargers first round draft pick. Photo by Jevone Moore/

Here’s why: Repeating as Super Bowl champions is no cakewalk in the first place. The Broncos will try to match last season’s success, but that’s not going to happen.  Without retiring their Hall of Fame quarterback riding in the saddle, this will be a much different season for Von Miller and his crew.

The Chargers don’t have that kind of anxiety about their franchise quarterback. Philip Rivers is good, real good. You would be feeling pretty comfortable too if you have tight end Antonio Gates still tracking balls down. Rivers’ job got a bit easier in the offseason when the Chargers signed former Cleveland Browns speed burner Travis Benjamin.

All Rivers has to do is chuck it deep, and watch Benjamin run down the ball. This is something to watch for all season. But for Rivers and the Chargers to really have their way in riddling defenses, a breakout season from second-year running back Melvin Gordon and the return of wideout Keenan Allen will be critical. These are the game-changers the Chargers need to do their thing in order for the team to move from being pedestrian to becoming elite.

Interesting enough, the separation of being a mediocre team and being a top-tier NFL ballclub, comes down to playmaking moments, staving off injuries and having quite a bit of good luck. The Chargers ran into a mixture of not making enough plays down the stretch of several games last season, getting hit with the injury bug and not having enough moxie to get over the hump of misfortune.

Danny Woodhead (39) could have a big year for the Chargers in 2016. Photo by Jevone Moore/News4usonline
Danny Woodhead (39) could have a big year for the Chargers in 2016. Photo by Jevone Moore/News4usonline

But nobody’s out there crying that the Chargers got hit with bad luck. Every team has to deal with injuries. In order to win, every team has to be able to have good enough athletes to execute plays from the playbook, and you still need a dash of luck on your side to pull out some close wins.

In the Chargers’ case, that could be reversed in 2016. Not just because the Chargers have one of the more explosive offensive teams in the league. Playing defense is still the key to unlock a team’s Super Bowl path. The Broncos are a prime example of this.

Denver’s takedown of both Tom Brady and Cam Newton in the AFC Conference title game and Super Bowl 50, respectively, served notice that when all else on the offensive end breaks down, the defense can come in and save the day.

With that said, the Chargers have stacked their chips the last several years in bolstering their defensive unit with young playmakers. Joey Bosa, whom the Chargers made their No. 1 pick in this year’s NFL Draft, have a whole lot to prove given the fact he didn’t play a lick of downs in the preseason because of his holdout.

Bosa had better come strong and he had better come correct from his defensive end position because the Chargers’ defense will be relying on his high-motor skills to get after the quarterback on a routine basis. If Bosa is able to do his part, the rest of the Chargers’ defense, because of their excellent team speed, will make things hairy for the other squads.

San Diego’s secondary should be one of the best in the league. Jason Verett Brandon Flower, along with safety Jahleel Addae, are going to be rocking some ships this season. They’re tough. So with all of that, the Chargers are still going to have to make believers out of some people. The question now becomes are the Chargers elite enough as a team to vie for a deep postseason push?

Only the season will tell, but a 12-4 record and a AFC West crown is not out of the realm of possibility for this team.

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