2009 Predictions and Hopes




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So here we are, at the threshold of the 2009 season. Rookies report to camp on July 26, just 12 days away, with the vets reporting on July 31. As always, we fans are anxious to see how the old guys handled the offseason and what the new kids are going to bring to the table. On that note, let’s take a look at a couple of training camp battles that could be very interesting, then move on to predictions for the upcoming 2009 season.

ROG – Mike Goff is gone, having been allowed to leave after 5 years of starting every game. Now on the Chiefs roster, Goff leaves a hole to fill. The Chargers signed ex-Falcon Kynan Forney to a new 2 year contract and expect him to start, but 3rd round draft pick Louis Vasquez will have a lot to say on that subject. Vasquez is uber-strong with a reportedly nasty demeanor and has youth on his side. He came from the spread offense so he has work to do on his run-blocking, but I expect him to pick that up quickly. I’ll give Forney the Day One nod as the starter due to experience, but youth and attitude will win out by mid-season at the latest.

 


ROT – Here’s the real problem spot on the OL, IMO. Clary was something of a turnstile against speed rushers last year, allowing 6.5 sacks. Was this all Clary or a result of other issues on the OL? It looks as though we’ll get to see the answer firsthand, as he looks to be the guy at ROT again unless something unforeseen happens in training camp. Corey Clark? I’d be very surprised.

 

Safety – Hart says that he’s healthy and ready. I think he’s a career backup at best. If Ellison can stay away from the injury bug, he’s the guy who will line up with Weddle in 2009. Ellison is a very intuitive player with loads of football smarts. Anyone who saw him on the field for USC could see that he was the general. He’s a strong, sure tackler and plays faster than his timed speed. Barring injury or a poor training camp, he’s our man. I’m hoping for Rodney Harrison Part Deux.

 


DE – Castillo has one side locked up – let’s hope that he stays healthy and benefits from Shawne’s return. The other side is more disputed since Igor Olshansky’s departure to the Big D. In the mix are Cesaire, Coleman, Grennan, Ian Scott, Bingham, and Vaughn Martin. Cesaire and Bingham look to be the early favorites–they have the most reps and have played well in the past. I really can’t speak much to Coleman, Scott, or Grennan. At this point, I see them as rotational players at best. Martin has an uphill battle. Canadian college football is a much different beast from the NFL. However, Martin is something of a beast himself. His measurables are quite impressive for a man of his size and he seems to be a thoughtful, intelligent, hard-working player. He won’t start against Oakland, but I expect him to see reps against them. He’s too much of a force to keep off the field for long. This guy is our future at either DE or possibly NT, folks. I’m a believer in "Vicious".

 


The Chargers gained depth at the CB position by drafting Brandon Hughes, RB with Gartrell Johnson, and OL with Tyronne Green, who can play either guard position and has some time at center. Demetrius Byrd will likely spend the year on IR due to injuries from a car accident just before the draft. UDFA Darry Beckwith may also find a spot in the linebacker unit, possibly at the expense of Matt Wilhelm.

 


So that sums up what I feel will be the primary training camp battles. Now on to the good stuff. Let the games begin!!

 


First, let’s look at a few stats for the 2009 season. I’m going to start with the Strength of Schedule (SOS) for both the Chargers and our opponents.

 

 

*Chargers                                .484                             Bye: Week 5

Raiders                                    .480                             Bye: Week 9

*Ravens                                   .438                             Bye: Week 7

*Dolphins                                 .594                             Bye: Week 6

*#Steelers                                .434                             Bye: Week 8

Broncos                                   .480                             Bye: Week 7

Chiefs                                       .484                             Bye: Week 8

*#Giants                                   .527                             Bye: Week 10

*Eagles                                    .535                             Bye: Week 4

#Browns                                  .449                             Bye: Week 9

#Cowboys                               .516                             Bye: Week 6

Bengals                                    .465                             Bye: Week 8

*#Titans                                   .508                             Bye: Week 7

Redskins                                  .492                             Bye: Week 8

 

* indicates 2008 playoff team

# indicates away game

 

All of the 2008 playoff contenders that we face in 2009 have a stronger SOS than ours except for Pittsburgh. Our divisional foes have nearly the same or, in the case of the Chiefs, the same SOS as ours. Our toughest away games, outside of Pittsburgh, are played against opponents whose SOS is over .500. So what does this all mean? Within our division, I don’t see much competition for the crown. It’s very conceivable that we could sweep our division foes. The toughest away games are going to be played against teams that have tougher schedules than ours, save Pittsburgh. This means that there’s a good chance that these teams will be somewhat worn down by the time that we meet them.

 


The timing of the bye week is seen as important to a team, but the data doesn’t necessarily support that premise. Bye weeks can be a blessing or a stumbling block. They can give a team the chance to get healthy and catch their breath, but can also foul up momentum and rhythm. Data that I found suggests a slight advantage for teams following the bye week (52.3% from 1993 through 2009). Some teams show a marked advantage, others a marked disadvantage. For an example of a couple of our opponents this year, Philadelphia is 8-2 after the bye while Pittsburgh is 5-5. Our 2009 schedule pits us against no one that is coming off of a bye week. The Chargers are 5-3 after the bye. Ours comes a bit early this year for my tastes – Week 5. However, it also comes after what will probably be our toughest game of the regular season. Our week 6 opponent is the Broncos at Invesco. I’m going to call that one a wash as I think we may have some bumps, bruises, and adjustments to address after the Steelers’ game.

 


Getting Shawne back, healthy and fired up, is an incredible plus for the Chargers. Combine that with a few good pickups in Kevin Burnett, our 1st round pick Larry English, raw but imposing Vaughn Martin, Kevin Ellison, and a full offseason for Ron Rivera to put his stamp on the defense? I see a markedly different defense than the one we fielded in 2008 before Rivera was handed the reins. Obviously a big part of the problem last year was our lack of a pass rush. It had a ripple effect throughout the entire defense. Part of the decline was the loss of Merriman, but I attribute at least as big a part to the soft defensive style of Ted Cottrell. Rivera will implement a much more attacking style and take the game to the opponent versus simply reacting to what the opposing offense does. I’m smelling blood in the water, ladies and gents!

 


On offense, ROT is the biggest question. Can Clary improve his game over 2009? He initially won the start more by default than stellar play. Let’s hope that the additional reps as a starter and a healthier unit overall will spell greater success for him. Is LT truly as healthy as he and others are saying? If not, will Norv move quickly to give more reps to Sproles, Gartrell Johnson, and Hester? We need a fresh, healthy LT for the postseason push this year. Has Gates really recovered from his nagging toe injury? Who will step up as Chris Chambers’ possible replacement for next year? All questions that I believe are going to be answered in a positive manner. Training camp will tell more about whether my hunches are right or just homerism.

 


Now for the predictions ……

 

Week 1: MNF, 9/14 @ Raiders
Does it get any better than this? MNF vs. the hated Raiders? What are we looking at now–12 in a row over these guys? I’ll lay off the Al Davis jokes here and just come at you with the facts. Oakland ranked 29th overall on the offensive side of the ball, 27th on the defensive side. LT traditionally has big games against the Raiders and by all accounts is healthy and ready to rock. Since his rookie year of 2001, LT has rushed for 1906 yards and 19 TD’s vs. Oakland. That isn’t even accounting for his receiving and passing TD’s. There also may well be a QB controversy in Oakland that could keep the team unsettled right up until opening day. The Raiders did little to help themselves in the draft. The running game is their strongest weapon and will depend as much on Lorenzo Neal’s ability to open holes than what the OL has to offer. I see a big win for the Chargers, 31-13.

 


Week 2: 9/20 vs. Ravens
Home opener against a tough Ravens squad. Their defense is consistently one of the best in the NFL, but they did lose a couple of key components over the offseason in Leonard and Scott. Gone as well is long-time DC Rex Ryan. Ray Ray is a year older and Dawan Landry must prove that he can come back from injury to replace Leonard. The veteran presence of Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle is gone from the secondary. On the other side of the ball, Flacco had a very impressive rookie year, but is apparently losing Derrick Mason to retirement. Will the sophomore jinx strike? Can Michael Oher become the LT of the future for them? I see this as a tough game, but the Chargers won’t disappoint at the home opener. Chargers win a tough battle, 27-21. BTW–I’ll be in attendance all the way from Virginia for this one!!

 


 


Week 3: 9/27 vs. Dolphins
The Dolphins did a decent job in the draft, shoring up the secondary with picks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. Getting Jason Taylor re-signed should be a boost to what was a pretty pathetic pass rush last year. Jake Grove is an upgrade over Satele at center. Will Pat White emerge as a QB? Pennington had a good 2008, but his weak and oft-injured arm is not the answer for the Fins. The defense was ranked 25th and 10th respectively vs. the pass and run. The Dolphins are traditionally better in the first half of the season, but they just won’t have enough firepower against this Ron Rivera defense nor a solution to the San Diego offense. Chargers win a fairly easy game, 34–17.

 


Week 4: 10/4 @ Steelers
The Ravens game was tough, but this is the first big test of the 2009 season. Defending SB champions, in their house, with our last meeting a postseason drubbing of the Chargers. The Pittsburgh defense shut our offense down while our defense couldn’t get off the field. So what’s changed? The most notable loss for Pittsburgh may be Larry Foote, but they always seem to have another linebacker waiting in the wings. Last year’s NFL DPOY Harrison is still there along with Farrior to lead this group. Polamalu still patrols the secondary like a man possessed. Ziggy Hood should turn out to be a very good addition to the DL. The OL was suspect last year and the team did little to address this in the offseason. Rashad Mendenhall’s recovery and play will be a big deal for the Steelers this year. Still, it’s tough to win in Pittsburgh. Big Ben leaves the game injured late in the 3rd quarter due to a tremendous hit from Merriman, but the Steelers defense wins a close one, 21-20.

 


Week 5: BYE

 


Week 6: 10/19 vs. Broncos
Ah, the Broncos. Arguably the most talked about trade of the offseason is Cutler to the Bears. Who cares? Rivers owned Jay anyway. The Broncos added Knowshon Moreno to an already crowded RB stable. He’ll be the guy who gets the starting nod. Marshall stays put, but is likely in off-field trouble by now and in the dog house. They’re switching to a 3-4 defense under new DC Mike Nolan, but do they really have the players for that move? I don’t see this as being a very good defensive unit again this year. Champ is getting older and Ayers is an unproven rookie with a questionable motor. Dawkins is a nice veteran presence, but he’s old as well. On the offensive side of the ball, I’m not too worried about Kyle Orton. Clady is a perennial Pro Bowl talent, but he can’t do it all. Hillis will be neutralized by having to protect his QB. This will be a fun one to watch if you’re a Chargers’ fan. Chargers win going away, 45–17. It’s not really that close.

 


 


Week 7: 10/25 @ Chiefs
Another team with a LOT of big offseason moves–new GM, new HC, new DC, new QB. The team is moving to a 3-4 defense, so they spend their 1st rounder and 3rd overall pick on DE Tyson Jackson. Now some of you may like this pick and wanted him for the Chargers. I’m not in that camp. Jackson just didn’t impress me that much at LSU. I saw a guy capable of being dominant, but not willing to put in the work. I think he’ll be inconsistent for the Chiefs, much like Dorsey has been to date. They need a pass rush, but did little to create one. Their OL is a mere shadow of what was once one of the best in the NFL. Last year in New England Cassell was sacked 48 times compared to 21 for Brady in 2007. Same offensive line for both QB's. Cassell will have to learn to deliver the ball much more quickly if he wants to have a long career as a starter in the NFL. Larry Johnson should go hang out with Shaun Alexander and talk about the good old days. I initially thought that we might lose this one, but I’ve changed my mind. Chargers, 31-23.

 


Week 8:11/1 vs. Raiders
Rematch from week 1, this time at Qualcomm. Once a year at the Black Hole is more than enough, thanks. By this time Jamarcus has lost his job to Jeff Garcia. Tenacious little bugger, isn’t he? Heyward-Bey is busy alternately nursing a sore hammy and tweeting with Ochocinco. The only bright spot is the running game, which has managed to put up some good numbers. It still isn’t enough. Garcia gets bloodied up by a swarming Chargers defense. What’s this – 13 in a row now? Chargers are off to their best start by far since Marty. Chargers win, 38 – 20.

 


Week 9: 11/8 @ Giants
I love to hate on Eli. I’ll never tire of it. It starts with the disrespect for the Chargers’ organization, moves through the sickening pandering to the Manning clan, and is reinforced by the fact that he’s just not that good and looks goofy. The Giants defense and a couple of miraculous catches are all that prevented the Patriots from going undefeated. Did Coach Shula send Coughlin a nice bottle of scotch? The Giants lost a big WR target when Plaxico went mental and tried to shoot off his package. Eli hasn’t recovered from that yet and I don’t think that rookies Hakeem Nicks or Ramses Barden will be able to do but so much to ease his mind this year. On the plus side for the Giants, Osi Umenyiora should be back healthy and they added to an already impressive pass rushing unit with the draft of Clint Sintim and offseason signings of Cris Canty and Rocky Bernard. Brandon Jacobs will be back to pound the ball with rookie Andre Brown as a change of pace. Beatty was a nice draft pick up for the OL. This game will be all about stopping Brandon Jacobs and protecting Phillip Rivers. I think we get it done. Chargers are 7-1 after this win, 27-24.

 


Week 10: 11/15 vs. Eagles
Did anyone have a better draft this year than the Eagles? Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, Cornelius Ingram, and Victor Harris. Not to mention the acquisition of Jason Peters. Quite a few folks have the Eagles listed as the NFC entrant to this year’s Super Bowl. I think they’ll be very good, but not that good. Much of their success hinges on the health of Brian Westbrook and DC Jim Johnson. I see another year of close but no cigar for McNabb. They do, however, manage to hand the Chargers their 2nd loss of the season and first in front of the home crowd. Eagles win a shootout, 48-45.

 


Week 11: 11/22 @ Broncos
I’ve already outlined what I feel are the Broncos weaknesses and not-so-bright spots. The 3-4 is not fitting well with the players, Orton is not the answer at QB, Marshall is sulking, and Knowshon has developed a case of fumble-itis Robert Ayers is MIA on about half of the snaps. Eddie Royal is the only thing keeping Josh McDaniels from having a complete meltdown. There’s no magic at Mile High. Chargers put the loss to the Eagles behind them and roll, 38 – 17.

 


Week 12: 11/29 vs. Chiefs
This story has already been told as well. Cassell is bruised and battered behind a leaky OL. Larry Johnson is back in diapers again. Tyson Jackson isn’t looking like the 3rd pick overall yet and Dorsey is still sulking about the Jackson pick. The Chiefs have some pieces in place, but it’s over for this year. Chargers complete their sweep of AFC West opponents with a 31 – 20 victory.

 


Week 13: 12/6 @ Browns
Brrrrrrr! It’s cold in Cleveland, but mostly in the Dawg Pound. Brady Quinn wins the starting job at QB despite Mangini’s prejudice against him, but is having a rough initiation to the trials of holding those reins. Although the loss of Donte Stallworth is an impact, WR Brian Robiskie is a pleasant rookie surprise. Alex Mack steps into the starting role at center and is making a big impact on the OL along with 2nd year tackle Joe Staley. Jamaal Lewis will lose touches to rookie James Davis from Clemson, who slipped to the 6th round because of Clemson’s collapse, not lack of talent. KWII, the "solja", is gone and good riddance. A leaky run defense and Eric Mangini as HC are more than the Browns can overcome in 2009. Chargers win on a cold day by running rough-shod over the Browns, 42-17.

 


Week 14:12/13 @ Cowboys
Did the Cowboys even participate in the 2009 Draft? Their first pick wasn’t until Day Two, Round 3, Pick # 69. Jason Williams in a 3-4 defense? I don’t see it. The best value in their draft was Michael Hamlin in the 5th round. TO is gone, Roy Williams is gone, both Canty and Ellis were cut. Igor isn’t the answer at DE. He wasn’t in SD, he won’t be in Dallas. Muscles aren’t everything. Brookings’ skills have degraded with age. Romo is overrated, especially in the latter part of the season. Witten is quite likely going to be his main target and force the passing game to be somewhat one-dimensional. The running game looks to be healthy. Dallas has a stout OL and good backs with Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice. Ron Rivera schools Wade in this one and keeps Romo completely off-balance. Chargers win, 31-21.

 


Week 15:12/20 vs. Bengals
The Bengals went out and quietly had one of the best drafts of 2009. While I would have been leery of Andre Smith, I also don’t make my living as an NFL GM. Smith has talent–it just depends on whether he wants to show up and work. If he does, he can be a very good OL. If not, he may go the way of Toniu Fenoti. I’m also not a big Maualuga fan, but he can be an impact player if he learns to rein it in a bit on the field and put in a lot of serious film study. I like the Michael Johnson pick. He should certainly breathe some life into a pretty anemic pass rush. Chase Coffman and Jonathan Luigs were both excellent values and address positions of need. Housh left for Seattle, but Laveranues Coles will fill that role. A few big questions for Cincinnati: Can they keep Palmer upright and healthy? Will Ochocinco make a comeback? Who will be the mainstay at RB? I think Cincinnati will improve over last season, but they’re not a playoff contender yet. Chargers, 34-17. Merriman KO’s Ochocinco during a half-time boxing match that lasts all of 16 seconds, which is how long it takes Merriman to chase Chad down.

 


Week 16: 12/25 @ Titans
Football on Christmas night? Thank you, jeebus!!! Take your pick of biggest offseason signings – Cutler to the Bears or Haynesworth to the Redskins. There is no denying that the loss of Fat Albert in the middle of that Titan DL is going to be felt throughout this defense. Sen’Derrick Marks is a load, but he’s also a rookie and no Haynesworth. Kenny Britt and Jared Cook were nice targets to grab in the draft. Re-signing Bo Scaife also helps the aerial attack. The Titans ground game is pretty potent. LenDale White can pound you into near submission. Chris Johnson is lightning fast and a touchdown waiting to happen at every touch. Who will throw the ball? Looks to be Kerry Collins again. I’ve heard nothing to sway me from that take. Neither Kearse nor Vanden Bosch are going to be able to create much of a push which means the secondary is going to suffer and Cortland Finnegan will be exposed for the overrated player that I think he is. Hope and Harper are both weak links. I do like the pick of LB Gerald McRath in the 4th round. Tennessee will miss the playoffs this year. The Chargers give their fans a great stocking stuffer and hand Jeff Fisher a lump of coal, 24–17.

 


Week 17: 1/3 vs. Redskins
Geography says that I should probably be a Redskins fan. I actually tried in the mid-to-late 80’s, but it just never stuck. I for one am very glad. Since I just finished talking about the effect of Haynesworth’s loss to the Titans, it might be assumed that he’ll have just as much of a positive effect on the Redskins. I personally think that Snyder drastically overpaid for Haynesworth’s services, but that’s never stopped Dan before. He’s the Steinbrenner of the NFL, attempting to buy a championship with little to no regard for the future of the franchise or team chemistry. But I digress …..  Washington didn’t make much of a splash in the draft beyond Orakpo. I do love this kid and believe he’ll be a star in the NFL. They lost Shawn Springs and Jason Taylor, re-signed DeAngelo Hall. I get a negative sum on that scenario. The LB corps is suspect outside of Orakpo, an unproven rookie. The pass rush was pitiful last year and they didn’t address the DE position adequately. As for the offense, the OL is a mess. Jason Campbell will spend a lot of his time running for his life. Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts make for a decent backfield but, without much of a passing game, they’ll be easy enough to stop. If Campbell goes down they turn to Todd Collins or Colt Brennan? Hmmm ... It will be a race to the bottom of the NFC East between the Redskins and Cowboys.

 


Chargers complete the season with a win, 42-24, a 14-2 record, and the first seed in the AFC. The path to the Super Bowl comes through San Diego. Déjà vu? Let’s hope for a much better ending this time, Bolt Faithful.

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