Everyone loves to doubt the Chargers, especially Charger fans. But for the first time in about five years the Chargers are not perennial favorites to win the Super Bowl this year. I've only seen 2 or 3 "experts" pick the Chargers to make the Super Bowl and the majority of Charger fans that I've talked to don't think that this team is better than a 10-6 or 9-7 team. Well I'm saying that they're all wrong. I'm saying this is the year they finally put it together. This is the year the Chargers win the Super Bowl. Here's why:
1. The Chargers passing game won't miss a beat without Vincent Jackson
Count me in as one of the few people who think Vincent Jackson is completely replaceable. First of all, Jackson isn't even the Chargers' #1 receiving option. That would be Antonio Gates. Second, Malcolm Floyd is a better red zone option than Jackson and last year Floyd was more productive down the stretch and matched Jackson's yards per reception average of 17.2. I also think Patrick Crayton will fit in nicely and Legedu Naanee and Buster Davis will contribute more than they did last year. And if they don't AJ Smith has shown he will go out and get a receiver. He already traded for Crayton this year and he got Chris Chambers in 2007 and Keenan McCardell in 2004. Receivers are as replaceable as trash bags and professional wrestlers. Vincent Jackson will not be missed.
2. Antonio Gates is going to have a HUGE year
Lost in the Vincent Jackson hoopla is the fact that Antonio Gates, had an excellent year last year. Gates put up a career high in receiving yards (1,157) and his 79 receptions were the most for him since 2005. The thing that most people didn't realize is that Gates was only 10 yards behind Jackson for the team lead in receiving yards. That's a measly little 1st down. Now with a potentially stronger running game that will freeze linebackers on play action passes and the fact that Philip Rivers will be looking to him a lot more, Gates is going to put up some video game numbers this year. I'm talking about 90 catches, 1,300 yards and 15 TDs.
3. You don't need a Pro Bowl Left Tackle to win the Super Bowl
Ask any knowledgeable football fan who the best LTs are in the NFL and the names Joe Thomas (CLE), Jake Long (MIA), Michael Roos (TEN), Ryan Clady (DEN), and Jordon Gross (CAR) will roll off their tongues. You know what these guys have in common with you and I? None of us have a Super Bowl ring. In today's NFL where spread offenses and quick passes have become more prevalent, LTs are not as crucial as they were 10 years ago. Look at the past four Super Bowl winners. Unless you are a fan of the team of the player's mother you probably couldn't name the starting LT on the Saints, Steelers, Giants or Colts Super Bowl teams. Of course having Marcus McNeil would be nice, but a star LT is not a requisite for a championship team. In fact, the starting LTs for the past few Super Bowl winners were more similar to Brandyn Dombrowski than they are to McNeil.
4. Philip Rivers is about to take "The Leap"
Right now Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady are the Holy Trinity of QBs. With an improved running game and better depth at WR this is the year Rivers makes it a Holy Quartet.
5. Getting rid of Cromartie was addition by subtraction
After reading articles about Antonio Cromartie this offseason and seeing him on "Hard Knocks" I thought to myself, "I've seen this act before." Guys like this are a dime a dozen and prevalent in every facet of life. Guys like this are portrayed by Tom Cruise in every one of his movies. You know the character that I'm talking about. The talented, hotshot bartender / pilot / race car driver/ agent who thinks he's above it all and doesn't have to play by the rules. In the movies something happens and this guy gets his act together and becomes the hero. But in real life these guys are insufferable and a pain to deal with. What does this have to do with the Chargers? If you ever had to deal with a person like this you know how counterproductive it is and it becomes a lot easier to get things done when once you don't have to deal with them anymore. I felt bad for the Chargers DBs when I heard stories about Cromartie ignoring calls in the huddle and running what ever play he wanted to. Antoine Cason may not be as talented but at least he knows what team he's on.
6. The Defense is healthy
Like all Charger fans, I yearn for the Wade Phillips days where the Chargers seemed to be able to get to the quarterback at will. In 2006 the Chargers led the NFL with 61 sacks. I don't think they will be at that level this year but I do think the Chargers' will be able to get 45-50 sacks this year. This is Ron Rivera's second full year as defensive coordinator and hopefully he won't have to deal with injuries like he did in 2009. Remember, last year the Chargers lost their first and second string NT (Jamal Williams and David Bingham) by the first game of the season. Their starting MLB Kevin Burnett was hurt and so was Shawne Merriman (and he is again this year). But with solid defensive line rotation in place, Larry English given another year to develop and Antwan Applewhite looking like he's ready to play a key role the defense the Chargers defense will be better. I think the OLBs can give them 30-35 sacks, the D-Line can throw in another 10, Rivera can manufacture 5 from the DBs with his zone blitzes and there you have it: A pass-rush not as good as 2006 but close enough to it.
7. The Chargers are better than they were last year
Here's a dirty little secret: The Chargers overachieved last year. They were a one-dimensional offense, they couldn't run the ball (they were last in the league in yards per rushing attempt), they couldn't sack the quarterback, they couldn't get off the field on defense and they couldn't sustain long drives on offense. But despite all these problems they still went 13-3 and swept through arguably the best division in football, the NFC East. This year with Ryan Matthews the Chargers offense will be more balanced. And because the offense will be more balanced, the Chargers as a team will be better. They will be able to control time of possession and give the opposing team less opportunities on offense and they will be able to run out the clock when they have the lead. The 2010 Chargers will no longer be a one-trick pony. They will be able to control the game with their offense which will in turn help them on defense.
8. The Chargers will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs
Take a look at the Chargers' schedule this year. There's a good chance the Chargers will be favored in all but one of their games this year-- at Indy. Outside of that game the only tough games the Chargers have are: at home vs New England and to lesser extents home vs Tennessee, and at Houston and Cincy. After looking at their schedule there is no reason for me to think that this team can't go 14-2 or 13-3 and if they can do that the Chargers should have home field advantage throughout the playoffs for the first time ever.
9. There is no dominant team in the AFC
Charger fans love to agonize about our team's problems but if you look around, the other AFC contenders have worse issues. Indy released their starting LT four days before the start of the season. the Ravens secondary is in shambles and won't have Ed Reed for the first six weeks of the season. The Patriots lost one of their best defensive lineman for the season and don't have a starting DB over 24 years old. The Jets have a QB who's more interested in being cute than being good. I'd rather have the perceived weaknesses of the Chargers than the problems these teams have.
10. Fifth time's a Charm
Seriously, it's time for these guys to put it together and win the Super Bowl. There hasn't been a more tortured fan base in the NFL over the past five years than the Chargers'. We suffered through the stomach punch game against the Patriots after the 14-2 season. The next season they gave us hope by limping into the AFC Championship game and taking the Patriots to the brink. They were 8-8 the year after that and didn't have a chance against the Steelers in the playoffs. And last year was 2006 redux: a great regular season followed by a stomach punch, crap the bed game at home in the playoffs. In between, we endured Steve Foley getting shot, stories of these guys being arrogant and immature, and Ted Cotrell at defensive coordinator. I think we've had enough. This year the distractions are supposedly gone. They are grounded. They are focused. Its been a long strange trip with this team and this is the year they reward us with a Super Bowl.