For this 2010-2011 Season, the Chargers have what is rated as the 3rd easiest schedule in the NFL. That doesn't mean that they will finish with the 3rd best record in the NFL, nor does it mean they can't finish with the Best (16-0, 15-1). They could always flop a couple of times and end up with a 10-6 record, but certainly, a Division crown is probably within reach without much of a case for it to go to another rival. But just because the strength of schedule calculates to a .453 winning percentage, doesn't mean that the Bolts have an easy shot at a first round bye...
Lets face it, the first three games are difficult lose. Kansas City is rebuilding, and will need a solid preseason to prove a tough opponent to the Division's big brother. Eric Berry being in coverage will mean
Tim Jon McGraw won't be repeatedly toasted by the receiving corps during the course of the game, regardless of Vincent Jackson being suspended. It will be a test game for a team that is obviously focusing on their defense to improve. Jamaal Charles may prove to be challenging for Cam Thomas and the Rookie LB and Safety if Ron Rivera decides to let them get some early game reps, or 4th quarter starts if the Chiefs are down more than 2 scores.
Jacksonville has a good receiver and running game, which will also give some valuable playing time for the rookies. Ryan Mathews may have a good game against the Jags young line group and relatively slow secondary. Otherwise, this is one of those games that won't be too surprising.
Seattle is an awkward defensive group that can sometimes show up at a championship caliber, or get beat around like a group of second string high schoolers. Who knows what we'll see. Just let it be a win. A 3-0 start is critical, and you'll see why. Anything less is disappointing.
Arizona is where the season will really kick off. After three "Easy", "winnable", "cake-walk" etc... games, maybe the team will be to proud when facing a serious contender and get pushed around on the way to a devastating but eye opening home loss. Hopefully, Everyone is focused and ready to play hard, keeping in mind that the Cardinals are an excellent road team. A 4-0 start would kill talks of Norv being a little slow. Even if its true in some aspects.
Regardless of how week 4 turns out, Oakland will be ready to prove something. Jason Campbell, who isn't overly happy to be in Oakland (he said so when he stopped by my job to chat, among other things), will definitely be an upgrade, unless Jamarcus Russell ends up having a great preseason with 4 straight 100+ QB rating games and Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and every other QB in the league simultaneously slips and tears their ACL on the way to Disney World. They are definitely a physical group who is dead tired of constantly getting
raped ravaged by their bitter rivals. They obviously want that streak of a full seasons (almost) worth of losses to end. Since they'll be fresh off a match up with the Texans, a quick, big play offense similar to the Chargers, they'll be ready in a situational way.
Another rebuilding team will be hosting San Diego week 6, and probably want what they won't get. A win. There are too many question marks on the team. Then again, they almost beat New Orleans last season... it could be one of those crazy upsets where Rivers throws more than 2 picks for the first time in his career and... seriously, I'm joking. 6-0 or 5-1 would be fantastic to start the year.
The Patriots. The only team that refuses to have a city, let alone a state as their "home". All of New England? Not everybody loves Clam Chowder, Mr. Kraft. Though I must admit, Vermont barely has enough people to be considered a state. Enough with geography and demographics though. This game is a must win. Not just because the fan base of both teams seem to hate each other, but because of possible playoff seeding, and to validate having such a "weak" schedule. I'd love to see a close rematch of the 07 playoff game, with a younger, healthy version of LT running, a healthy Antonio Gates, and a healthy, elite Rivers and developed Vincent Jackson playing. I wish it was a Sunday night game, but whatever. This game is in late October, a seemingly difficult time for the Chargers to play in. Lets not overlook that this starts a difficult 3 game stretch. Factor in that the Pats are coming off a Bye and a game against the Ravens, and they'll be (mostly) fresh and ready to step up big time.
After what is sure to be a physical match with NE, comes another well known
dirty physical team we love to play against. 2 physical matches in a row, against Intraconference Rivals. Not easy, regardless of the situation. You can't put a tag on that. Tennessee always plays hard, and they finished the season on a high note. Chris Johnson will probably be out to prove his worth, and hopefully, he'll be tackled before sprinting off to the endzone. Their defense will be healthier and should be a tougher task than the last time they were ripped to shreds by #17.
The last time Houston faced San Diego, it was somewhat emotionally charged by the wildfires, and Cromartie started to show why he
is was awesome. This time around, Houston is a much more complete team, and they are fast paced, something, although I don't like to admit it, is a little bit of an extra challenge for the Chargers' defensive group. They'll need to think fast and smart to hold the Texans below 24 points. And they'll need to give everything they can, since the bye week will provide time to rest. The next chunk of the schedule is harder than it looks, read why...
Philip Rivers is Mr. December. The King of the year's end. No one has dominated a single month like he has. He is undefeated in December. It seems the NFL wants to change that by organizing November and December to be a rough stretch.
First game after the Bye is a Monday night game against the
Tebows Broncos and whatever they decide to do with their half roster of QBs. Like always, it will be a game to remember for whatever reasons. Hopefully, the Chargers, especially special teams, can exact revenge for last years nationally televised shibacle. Whoever is under center will have a hard time force feeding a dozen 6 yard drag passes to Brandon Marshall, and who knows what their depleted group of receivers will be capable of... but the Orange crush turned orange mush is getting older, and Williams may want to lay a couple guys down for some fun/evil reason to finally hit Rivers before he retires. Easily, a must win game.
Following a short week after what is sure to be a gritty game, comes a well known collision between two dominant teams at Indy. Its not a playoff preview just yet, but it is in Indy, so like the '07 playoff game, there may be some biased officiating and phantom holding calls on Eric Weddle when clearly Joseph Addai is yanking on his jersey and th... sorry. Still bitter. Anyway, what I meant was that it will be a close game and everyone will want to watch Manning vs Rivers and Merriman/Phillips vs Freeny/Mathis and Jackson/Gates vs Wayne/Clark and so on. Again, a must win. The Colts will be returning from a game against shared rival New England, so maybe they'll be just as beaten up. This is the second game in a tough 5 game stretch, followed by:
Oakland, week 13. The second match that will undoubtedly be difficult, especially if the Raiders are trying to defend against a 15th consecutive loss. Division games are almost always tough, great to have this game after 2 already tough games against rivals. What could make this time of the season any worse? Oh...
Kansas City. A Second consecutive division game, the third division team in 4 weeks. This shows that strength of schedule on paper is different when you factor in the game situation and schedule order. This will also be a hard game because if the season is going the way we hope it will, the Bolts will be fighting for a high seed in the playoffs, and both rivals Oakland and Kansas City may want to play spoiler. Kansas will definitely be better than they were week 1, so we'll see if they can pull the early upset after the Chargers come home from 3 very difficult games. Especially since their next game is...
Four days later. Thursday game on NFL network. San Francisco. They have a nasty Defense. Mike Singletary vs Ron Rivera. Two old buddies from Chi-town who will want to probably challenge each other and see who's got the rougher, tougher Defense. The 49ers are also getting a short week, but they aren't coming off a 4 game stretch of tough rivalry games. Their offense has talent, its just not put together 100%. A win is likely, less so for San Fran. At least the Bolts will have 3 extra days of rest for a pleasant game in...
Cincinnati. Late December. Chances are, the Chargers will be playing in bad, bad weather. "The forecast for today: Cold. Partly cloudy, with a high temperature of nothing. I mean zero. Wind chill from the 11mph northwest winds to be negative 12. Did we mention it will be cold? Wear a layer of jackets if you plan on being dumb enough to stand outside. It'll be cold." I'll probably go to that game. If I win that spacesuit on ebay. Nothing like resting up in 74 degree sweet sunny San Diego to head off to the extreme cold. Will the game stand as a Night Game? It might, if Snow is forecast and both teams have 10 wins or playoff spots to secure. Though they might prefer playing under the warm glow of the sun. At least the season finale will be... ugh...
Season ends at Mile High. In the Cold again. Damn you, Dr. Freeze. At this point in the season, the Chargers might just go to Denver to chill out if they have a seed locked up. But we don't want to see their "momentum" cool off either. They need to stay hot and play to win, that way they head into the playoffs with purpose. We'd hate to see them thaw out because of too much time playing half heartedly. This isn't one of those games you want to sit on ice. Its a division game against a cold hearted rival that would like nothing more than to freeze the Chargers' season to a stop with a chilling loss. It will also be cold at Invesco field, if you didn't get the subtle hints.
So there you have it. When you step back and look at the whole equation, instead of just the final result, you see that there is more to the season than the "29th hardest" schedule. The difficulty rated by the previous' season's win/loss results doesn't account for the order of games, or how the games will be arranged as far as division/ inter-intra conference match-ups. Because of the layout, the schedule is actually tougher than it seems. As much as the season could unfold into another 13-3 season and #2 seed, it could also turn into a 10-6 season and #4 seed, or worse, or better even, since its so darn EASY playing against 16 teams running onto a field with the same purpose, determination and reason as you. Lets hope everything turns out the way we would like it to and San Diego finishes with a top 3 seed and a chance to reach the Championship game.