Before you start gathering up your pitchforks and lighting your torches, understand that I am just giving one side of the argument here. Do I think the Chargers can find the postseason again in the upcoming season? Absolutely. However, it is far from a sure thing. Here are the reasons why:
If you are the best team in your division, the inter-conference games do not mean as much when it comes to playing in January, you simply have to be better than the other three teams in your division. With the AFC champion in their division, the Chargers will likely be battling 11 other AFC teams for one of the two wild card spots.
The Chargers will have to play the NFC West, home to the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks, and the division that produced three 10 win teams. That puts them at a major disadvantage, especially since the Bolts were the third-best team in their own division last year.
While Tom Telesco has done a great job of filling in holes on the roster in the past two offseasons, there is still more work to be done. The starting offensive line from last season currently remains intact, but King Dunlap and Chad Rinehart missed multiple games and the depth was tested. Mike Harris will return and will need to be ready enough to fill in at left tackle, as D.J. Fluker was much more comfortable of the right side.
Cornerback is another position that cannot afford to lose a player to injury. Shareece Wright played well at the end of the 2013 season, but struggles both on the field and with injuries before that. With rookie Jason Verrett possibly missing part of training camp with his shoulder injury, San Diego could very well be looking at Richard Marshall as a starting cornerback again to begin the season.
The defensive line is not in the best of shape either. The Chargers like Sean Lissemore at nose tackle, but all that lays behind him is fifth-round rookie Ryan Carrethers and Kwame Geathers. Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget both had down years in 2013 (although Liguet reportedly played through a shoulder injury all season), and there is not much of a backup plan after those two at defensive end.
The Chargers will be getting some good players back in 2014, but injuries affect every team every year. It is only a matter of time before the first ones hit, and where those injuries occur will go a long way in determining how the Bolts can handle them. The Chargers had a fairly surprising turnaround in 2013, reaching the postseason for the first time since 2009. Here is why they won't be so lucky again.
Loss of Ken Wisenhunt
Under Norv Turner, Philip Rivers' play began a sharp decline. Over the 2011-2012 seasons, Rivers averaged a 63.5% completion percentage, 7.4 yards per attempt, 26.5 touchdowns,17.5 interceptions, and 12 fumbles per season. Last year, Rivers boasted a 69.5% completion percentage, 8.2 yards per attempt, 32 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a much less frustrating 3 fumbles.
Wisenhunt also played off of the success of Philip Rivers by committing to a strong running game. In the last four regular season games (all victories) San Diego rushed for an average of just over 163 yards per game. By comparison, the league-leading Philadelphia Eagles rushed for just over 160 yards per game. Running the ball was crucial for the Chargers to keep their defense off the field.
New Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich and head coach Mike McCoy are expected to carry out a similar philosophy on offense, but Charger fans can only hope that the offensive output in 2014 can match 2013.