It's around this time of year, between Mini Camp and Training Camp, that I feel myself getting overly optimistic. I mean, just health-wise alone not everything will go as planned, right? However, I start looking at the upcoming schedule and I start believing that all of the healthy players will stay healthy and all the recovering players will be 100% from day one.
So let the mind dance a bit. If Merriman comes back 100% in week 1 as the force we all remember him to be, that improves the defense overall and almost immediately brings us back to the dominating defense of 2007 (only players missing would be Igor and McCree). That's probably nuts to think that though. Hart was hurt by the lack of pass-rush, but he was also exposed for his poor coverage skills in 2008. There's no guarantee that Cesaire/Martin are going to be able to produce the way Igor did in 2007. There's no guarantee that Williams and Castillo can stay healthy. Et cetera. There's no way for me to predict exactly how injuries will go and which players will "return to form" or have off years.
On offense it's the same story. I dream about each offensive player (with the exception of LT) having the best year of their career. In my mind this season is perfect until proven otherwise. However, I will keep some realism in here. I know that both lines are hurt (McNeil, Jamal), bringing in new players (Cesaire/Martin, Forney/Vasquez) and dealing with questionable talent (Castillo, Clary). I know we still have some holes on both sides of the ball. But as promised, I waited until after the draft and now I'll make my way through the season.
Week 1/@ Raiders
I for one would be terrified of the Raiders this year had they had a good draft, but they didn't. JaMarcus Russell has the tools to be as dominating as McNabb and Culpepper in their primes. The team really stabilized after Cable took over as coach. Their depth at running back is unbelievable. Their secondary is strong. After the draft all they're missing is a good offensive line, which could kill any team.
Chargers 30, Raiders 14 (1-0)
Tough game against a tough team. I think the Bart Scott loss is going to hurt them more than people realize. They're also very old at some key positions (DE, LT, MLB). I could see this team completely falling apart and winning 4 games all season or I could see them being this year's Titans and winning a ton. This team does target a weakness that the 2008 Chargers had and 2009 probably will also, at least in the beginning of the season: ball control.
Ravens 23, Chargers 21 (1-1)
Big news this morning as Jason Taylor has returned to the Miami Dolphins. He is definitely going to help their defense, but they lost a lot in free agency without picking up much. Also, the Ravens made a picture-perfect blueprint on how to beat this team in the playoffs. Play your safeties deep, but have them play the ball instead of the receivers. Then throw some odd blitz packages at them to confuse their young offensive line. Pennington seems to go into a bit of a shell if you can hit him hard a couple of times.
Chargers 28, Dolphins 14 (2-1)
Week 4/@ Steelers
Ugh. The Steelers really seemed to have our number last year. Dick LeBeau seems to have Norv Turner's gameplan in his pocket and we couldn't bring enough heat against Roethlisberger to stop their offense late. This year is a bit different. The pass rush should be improved and the offense may have even more weapons than last year. As usual, this should be a tough, tight game that comes down to the lucky bounce and the bad call. Since the Chargers will be the visiting team, I'm thinking those things will not go their way.
Steelers 24, Chargers 23 (2-2)
I used to hate early byes. I kinda like them now. Especially after a big game. We can literally put everything on the line against Pittsburgh and know that we'll have an extra week to recover. Also, with a tight team that week off seems to build a lot of chemistry and get the momentum building.
I'm not going to pretend that I'm afraid of the Broncos this year. I'm not. We're almost to training camp and they still have no idea who is playing where on the defense. I'm starting to hear rumblings that they've messed up building a 3-4 roster so badly that they're thinking about running the 4-3 for one year before making the switch. Orton is a significant downgrade from Cutler, McDaniels probably isn't better than Shanahan.
Chargers 35, Broncos 17 (3-2)
Week 7/@ Chiefs
Now the Chiefs have done a decent job of building their roster pretty quickly into what they want it to be. I think they could surprise everyone this year, but then against I don't think the coaches they brought over from Arizona are anything special. I could be wrong. If they get some off-the-field problems solved with Waters and Larry Johnson, they could be a decent team. I still don't know that they're going to compete with the Chargers without some major injury to one of our star players.
Chargers 28, Chiefs 21 (4-2)
Chargers 24, Raiders 20 (5-2)
Week 9/@ Giants
Ah, the revenge game. If Rivers outplays Eli it looks great in the media. This middle-of-the-season game is going to be hard-hitting and will probably be decided by the lines. That could be bad news for the Chargers. McNeil will be dealing with Umenyiora and Clary will probably be dealing with either Tuck or Kiwanuka; both are dangerous. This is similar to the Ravens game in that I worry about ball-control. Is our running game going to be good enough to get first downs? Is our defense going to be strong enough to stop Brandon Jacobs? Can we cover Kevin Boss? Can we cover their receivers in man-to-man? I have no idea, but they have to answer similar questions and I think their secondary is a weakness.
Chargers 20, Giants 17 (6-2)
Here's one I've flip-flopped on. The Eagles success in the last decade was at least 60% due to Jim Johnson, who is as brilliant as LeBeau and Kiffin. He may actually be smarter because he invented a defense that nobody else in the NFL has even attempted to copy yet. Nobody thinks they could do it without him. Now, when he lost Dawkins and replaced him with Sean Jones I thought the defense would still be dynamic and tough to beat. However, Jim Johnson is now battling cancer in his spine and has been in a motorized scooter and dealing with incredible pain. He loves coaching and will continue to do so, but it would be tough for me to think that he won't be effected in the number of hours he can put by his current condition. Because of that I think the Eagles D will suffer this year and the team, which always seems ready to rip each other apart, will implode.
Chargers 21, Eagles 17 (7-2)
Week 11/@ Broncos
Chargers 30, Broncos 21 (8-2)
Chargers 20, Chiefs 21 (8-3)
Week 13/@ Browns
Hmmmm, now here's a hard team to read. New coach but from the same system as the old coach. Lots of talent on the team that flourished for one year and disappeared. I, for one, am a big Brady Quinn fan. His size, his arm strength, his accuracy and intelligence make him a great QB prospect. I really can't see any way that he doesn't burst out this year and put his name on the map with a great season unless he gets injured. Their defense is still a few pieces away and I don't know that James Davis from Clemson will help out Jamal Lewis as much as is needed. This game will be tougher than you think.
Chargers 31, Browns 24 (9-3)
Week 14/@ Cowboys
Yikes. Do you realize how big football is in Dallas? Do you know how much karma they just got after their practice dome collapsed? Do you realize how crazy it's going to be to play in front of 100,000+ crazy Cowboys fans? That's going to be an unbelievable home field advantage. Even in that tough division I'd be willing to bet Dallas wins 6 games or more at home in 2009.
Cowboys 28, Chargers 20 (9-4)
Man, we really needed this second bye week. Wait, what? There's actually a game? No, I don't believe that. I'm looking at the calendar in Norv's office and he has a big W covering the week 15 game already. I just assumed it was a bye.
Chargers 35, Bengals 10 (10-4)
Week 16/@ Titans
In Tennessee on Christmas. Those poor Chargers players had to go to London last year and have to spend Christmas away from home this year. I don't think there's a chance in hell that this doesn't become an Ice/Snow Bowl game. Those games cannot be predicted at halftime. Especially when it's two teams that rely on strength and power. I'm also a little scared about those stories of LenDale White losing 20 lbs of fat and replacing it with muscle because he's finally "serious". He looked pretty serious to me last year before Chris Johnson got hurt and he wore down. Either way, I think Kerry Collins has a third downward spiral in him.
Chargers 21, Titans 13 (11-4)
Here's a big game. And also it's not. Since I don't expect anyone else in our division to even go 8-8 I don't expect the starters to play much in this game. At the same time, I think the Redskins will be playing for the NFC East crown during this week. So what do we do? Do we play it like the Giants against the Patriots, getting in work against a playoff-caliber team and try to capture some momentum or do we take the week off and get healthy? Logic says you play hard, but Norv likes a healthy team. Billy V, GET WARM!
Redskins 24, Chargers 14 (11-5)
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