The Best Case
Every one of the projected starters get through OTA’s healthy. This is already improvement from 2013. Malcolm Floyd, Vincent Brown, and Tevin Reese shine in training camp and preseason. Floyd pronounce himself fully healthy and "feeling great" after not seeing much in the way of contact during 2013. Dwight Freeney makes similar statements.
The Bolts play nothing but rookies and 3rd stringers in the final pre-season game against the Week 1 opponent Cardinals. Both teams play it so close to the vest during the game that the score is 0-0 at the end of regulation and one overtime period.
The opening game in Arizona puts the league (those that are still awake to see the game) on notice that the Bolts will not have offensive tendencies to prepare for in 2014. Ladarius Green lines up everywhere - the backfield, the slot, tight against a tackle, and split wide. Danny Woodhead is similarly used and to a lesser extent, so are Eddie Royal, Ryan Mathews, and Donald Brown. Rivers picks up right where he left off in 2013, going 22 for 27 for 283 yards and two TD’s. Mathews and Donald Brown each chip in a rushing TD. Allen and Green have 5 receptions, 4 other Bolts have 3 catches each.
The Bolts defense rotates what looks like an endless stream of fresh, capable outside rushers to record 5 sacks and capitalize on Carson Palmer’s obviously declining arm strength to get 2 picks. The D cashes in a Palmer sack fumble for a score as the Bolts win 41-10.
After a close loss against the Seahawks in the home opener (13-10), the Bolts post a 5 game winning streak, with the next loss against Denver on a Thursday night game the last week of October. With the additional preparation, the angry team shakes off the Sunday Morning lethargy in Miami to narrowly win 27 – 24. The Bolts go into the bye 7 and 2.
Coming out of the bye, the team wins the two home games in md-November and has a one game lead on Denver going into the November 30 game in Baltimore. The loss in Baltimore puts the division back into a tie and Denver’s win against the Bills Sunday afternoon put the Bolts behind Denver on tiebreakers before the Sunday Night Game against New England. The Bolts, after getting a fiery pregame speech from Mike McCoy before the game take advantage of New England’s time zone issues and blow out the Patriots on NBC. The stage is set for the 12/14 show down against Denver.
NBC flexes the game to another Sunday Night match up, giving their execs another week to enjoy San Diego in December. After a wild shoot out of a game, the Chargers are once again on top of the AFC West after River’s last second TD pass to Green puts the Bolts on top 45-41. The next week, the Bolts again play in prime time as CBS holds their breath until they are blue in the face for the late Saturday game in San Francisco. The Bolts come out on the short -end of that game against a desperate team fighting for its own division lead. Denver wins the Bengals – Broncos game on Sunday night, putting the AFC West back into a tie, with Denver and the Bolts both 11-4 going into Week 17.
The playoff scenarios, featuring the winner of the AFC West getting a first round bye and a potential 12-4 team playing in a wild card game (and 7 other teams mathematically eligible for the final wild card spot), are so complex that ESPN’s main frame crashes on Friday while the network is preparing for the Sunday pregame shows. With the Chargers winning in KC and Denver beating the Raiders at home, it comes down to the fourth tie-breaker (win-loss % in Conference games) to award the Bolts the AFC West championship.
The Worst Case
The injury bug starts to bite in mini-camp and continues to bite HARD throughout training camp and preseason. The team that looked like it would be pretty solid coming out the draft looks a lot shakier after the final cuts are made, although this lets a few UDFA’s get their chance to shine. There are quite a few players that the Chargers were counting on going into camp that will not be available until November or 2015.
From the first game through the season, the Chargers offense just does not seem to be playing with good rhythm and is clearly out of sync. Ryan Mathews regresses back to diving into the pile and defenses start to cheat left, as the Chargers become a pronounced right handed running team. With some losses along the line, pass protection becomes an issue as the ground game becomes unproductive.
The depleted receiving corps looks slow and with Keenan Allen drawing constant double teams, the Bolts passing game devolves to dump-offs and the occasional crossing or rub routes that free up Green, Gates, or Woodhead in the middle, when the plays are not called back for offensive pass interference. Philip Rivers is ejected from the Buffalo game and fined by the league after accidentally bumping a ref while arguing an OPI call in the 2nd quarter. After the game, an obviously frustrated Rivers hints that the offense may be too complex for some of the younger players to execute properly.
Other injuries quickly mount early in the year, and the Bolts are promoting practice squad players and re-signing August cut casualties at an alarming rate in late September. After a narrow win against the Jaguars at home, the Bolts are 1-3 to start the season and then proceed to go 0 for October. Fan opinions are split about the defensive woes; some call for Pagano’s head and other fans point to a depleted roster and inexperienced players being asked to start or switch positions.
Aided by the return of some key contributors and with many of the younger players picking up their play, the defense improves and the offense starts to look a little more like the 2013 unit. The team starts November with three straight wins. The 4-7 record and November success fuels hopes that the Bolts may be able to run the table for another end of season miracle.
Instead, the December dream becomes a nightmare as the team proceeds to lose 4 straight games to some of the best teams in the league. Coming down to the last game of the season, a game that means nothing to a Kansas City squad that has already clinched the 1st wild card slot, the Chargers win to finish the season at 5-11, with the 4th overall pick in the 2015 draft. A loss would have given them the 2nd overall pick, right behind the Giants.