The San Diego Chargers are pretty much the 2011's underdogs -- or "under-dawgs" depending on where you live. They aren't the most popular Super Bowl pick and NFL analysts and the talking heads you see on ESPN are kind of sick of making predictions that the Chargers are going all the way.
Of course, here at Bolts From The Blue and every other legitimate Chargers-centric website, readers and writers alike think our little blue Bolts have as good a chance as any other team has at getting to the dance.
And why shouldn't they? They're talented, in their prime, and (hopefully) very hungry.
Of course, there are things standing in their way. Here are your ten things that are doing just that, ala Bleacher Report (vomit!), but not really.
6. Their schedule. Last year, the San Diego Chargers' schedule sucked pretty bad. The team wound up playing against the two worst divisions in football in the AFC West and NFC West. That's ten times that the team had to play mediocrity and, holy hell, that's a lot.
This year, the team doesn't have the luxury of wanking around and winding up with a winning record -- they play the NFC North and the AFC East, two of the most competitive divisions in football. While the NFC North has nothing but dangerous teams, the AFC East is more top-heavy, with the New England Patriots and New York Jets leading the way as Super Bowl contenders, while the Miami Dolphins are probably a lot better. (Sorry, Buffalo Bills' fans -- your team still blows.)
5. Their head coach's attitude. Sorry, but Norv Turner isn't the kind of guy that will get in your face if you screw up. Sure, those kinds of coaches are definitely easier to play for, but no one's going to get your ass in shape better than a guy who'll look you straight in the eye and say, "You're sucking out there."
We know Norv's an offensive mastermind -- the dude's playbook is easily one of the most dynamic, exciting and effective in the league. But while he's very smart, he's very vanilla at the same time.
My advice? GET TOUGH, NORV!
4. Their complacency. In case you guys didn't notice, the Chargers are notorious for slow starts. Like, seriously slow starts. Like, holy-crap-dude-the-light's-been-green-for-40-seconds slow.
That's very obvious and the players have recognized this since 2007, when Norv Turner first took over and the Chargers looked like garbage against the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots to start the season.
The team won't need a super-fast start to get them to a Super Bowl, but they'll need to know what players will contribute to deep playoff runs and which ones won't. Getting everything together early in the season and slacking mid-way (so long as they can regain momentum to finish the regular season) will be just fine for figuring out if they're championship-worthy.
3. Their lack of discipline. I can't spew out any hard numbers with this one because, well, you can't attach a number to discipline.
No, instead, we'll talk about the untimely penalties the Chargers had last season as well as the did-you-seriously-just-drop-that-floater catches the receivers dropped.
It was extremely frustrating watching guys like Malcolm Floyd and Richard Goodman consistently drop gimmes, and even more frustrating that the receivers -- whether they were natural receivers or who were simply about to be recipients of a Rivers' toss -- combined for 25 total fumbles, while they only forced 13 on their opponents.
Turnovers are key and the Chargers weren't able to keep that clean in 2010. They better recognize this in 2011.
2. Lack of a legitimate run game. Ever since LaDainian Tomlinson hit his downside and Philip Rivers became a friggin' stud, the Chargers' run game has been pretty abysmal -- we don't see the commitment to the run game anymore, making the Chargers absolutely one-dimensional.
Last year was probably the Bolts' worst year in terms of rushing and it's no coincidence that it was also the worst year they've had since they missed the postseason in 2005.
Ryan Mathews has looked awesome in the preseason, but is he as fragile as he proved to be in 2010?
Stopping the run forcefully and hard running on offense are usually good indicators of toughness in this league, but that's not always the case; you wouldn't say the New York Jets are tough, but they are remarkably good at both of these things.
What they need is a bit more -- excuse my American -- cajones when tackling and more bravado when running. They need to get excited and mean, and as respectful as the Chargers have been the past two or three years, we'd like to see some nasty.