Over the last 4-5 seasons, I was (half) jokingly considering starting a class action law-suit against the San Diego Chargers for teaming up with fast food to give me high blood pressure. Looking back, I don't remember any game during that period that I considered a "lock." I didn't have the confidence to say "Oh I'm not worried about this week, we got this," without the little voice in the back of my head saying "Are you sure?"
The Norv Turner coached, and AJ Smith staffed, Chargers found new ways almost every week to play up to the level of stronger competition, building us up. Only to lay an egg the next week against a poor team.
Not only that, but every off season watching glaring roster holes go unaddressed or seeing one mid-season injury destroy an entire position.
It was painful...
But not this year. This time is different. We have been told this before by the front office and experts alike, only to watch the same story play out year after year. But this year really is different.
This team finds ways to finish
The Chargers of old never put games away when they should. If you follow me on twitter you've heard me say this a million times, but those Chargers were "playing to not lose" rather than "playing to win." Yes, they blew a 4th quarter lead in Week 1 to the Cardinals, but something looked off that entire game. San Diego then went on to shut out opponents in the 4th quarter for four straight games, and outscore their opponents in the 4th quarter five games in a row.
Beating good teams
In Week 2, the Chargers beat the Seahawks, a very good football team. Seattle is a team that everyone knows is good. The Turner coached Chargers didn't win against teams everyone knew were good. In 2012, they didn't record a win against any team that finished that year with a winning record. In 2011? One win against a team that finished with a record above .500. The Seahawks will likely finish with a winning record this season and the Bills also stand a good chance with only four of their ten remaining opponents currently above .500. San Diego also has five of their last ten games scheduled against teams with winning records, which means by the time the season ends they could have seven wins against teams with winning records.
Beating obviously inferior teams
A lot of non-Charger fans, and a few of the talking heads, have taken some credit away from the Chargers 5-1 (tied for best in the NFL) record due to a few of the teams they have played. I'm talking about the 0-5 Jaguars, 0-5 Raiders, and the 1-5 Jets. Like I mentioned above, for the Chargers, these teams would not have been considered "gimmie's" in the not so distant past. A truly good team will beat weak teams with ease on good days, like they did to the Jets, and find a way to win on bad days, such as the Oakland game. With only two of these "easy" games left (vs Oakland and vs St Louis), it's a good bet this Chargers team finishes the season avoiding all the trap games.
Depth/"Next Man Up"
This is a two-parter. First and foremost please join me in a slow clap for Tom Telesco. What he has done finding talent through the draft (Jason Verrett) and UDFA's (Jahleel Addae, Branden Oliver) to build this team around, finding gold bringing in veteran free agents (Dwight Freeney, Danny Woodhead, Brandon Flowers) in the off-season, and being able to grab quality role-players mid-season when there are injuries, has been nothing short of amazing. The night and day difference between the quality of players AJ Smith had been bringing into the locker room, and who TT has been able to bring in is shocking.
The second part of this is how this team has fully embraced the "next man up" mentality. There are many factors that contribute to this, namely the coaching staff and leadership in the locker room, but I also believe this has a lot to do with the commitment of TT and his staff to have the best 53 players they can get on the roster.
A "fixed" Philip Rivers
Since Mike McCoy came to town, people have been saying that Rivers has been "fixed." He was never broken. The problem was that he had been handicapped by Norv Turner's offense. Deep drop backs on every pass. Multiple deep routes with few underneath options. Little to no encouragement to change the play at the line if Philip saw something he didn't like.
As Rivers said during the interview at halftime of the Thursday night football game this week, this offense fits the personnel, especially Rivers, so much better than what Norv drew up. The offense that McCoy and Frank Reich have drawn up takes advantage of every one of "El Capitan's" many strengths which is allowing him to cut down on the mistakes and unavoidable no-win situations he was constantly put into during the past regime.
Good DBs not named Eric Weddle
The Chargers have not had anyone even resembling a "shutdown" cornerback since 2007 when Antonio Cromartie had 10 interceptions and 18 passes defended. They also haven't had a corner or safety not named Eric Weddle that the public outside San Diego could name (for positive reasons, anyway). This year San Diego boasts the #1 and #2 overall rated corners on PFF in Brandon Flowers and rookie Jason Verrett respectively. I won't spend a lot of time here, but if you want more proof just look at the articles by Kyle Posey here and here.