Calm down. It's part of a series. Each week leading up to the regular season, I'll look into the different scenarios that could result in the San Diego Chargers finishing fourth, third, second, and first in the AFC West. Let's start from the bottom.
When people ask me for my season prediction for the upcoming Chargers season, I usually give some sort of a range. "I think they'll win anywhere from seven to nine games, depending on how the ball bounces." The truth of the matter is that teams can finish with almost any record, depending on luck and injuries (if we learned anything from the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs, let it be that).
So, knowing that the Chargers could potentially finish anywhere from first to last in their division this season, what might lead to them finishing last?
Philip Rivers Major Injury
Injuries are unpredictable, specifically major ones. Sometimes, star QBs get injured in a way that knocks them out for a long period of time. It can happen at any point to anyone. Case in point:
You get the point.
Someone on the NFL Around the League Podcast recently stated that a good starting QB is worth at least six wins. That, as long as you had a healthy and talented starting QB, your team could not be worse than 6-10. I think that's about right, which means it may take a major injury to El Capitan for the Chargers to finish dead last in the division.
(For what it's worth, I don't think Kellen Clemens could lead the team to a 6-10 record. I do, however, think Brad Sorensen is the second-coming of future Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner. So maybe we wouldn't be completely screwed.)
Let's be honest, it would not take an act of God for the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs to finish with a better record than the San Diego Chargers this season. Heck, that's exactly what happened last year.
While we hope, and maybe even think, that the Chargers could play better than those teams in 2014 (we'll deal with that in later posts in this series), we know for sure they'll be better than the Oakland Raiders. Right?
The Oakland Raiders were a mess last season. After trading for QB Matt Flynn, former Supplemental Draft Pick QB Terrelle Pryor wound up winning the starting job. Pryor led the Raiders to a respectable 3-4 record in the early part of the season before struggling with injuries and eventually losing his job to Matt McGloin, whom the Raiders loved despite his 1-5 record as a starter.
Their running game wasn't much better, with Darren McFadden predictably missing half the season due to injuries. However, backup RB Rashad Jennings actually performed well when given the starting role.
Free agency was a mixed bag for Oakland in the offseason. They lost starting LT Jared Veldheer, who missed all but five games last year with injuries, but traded for Matt Schaub. They also signed future Hall of Fame RB Maurice Jones-Drew and future Hall of Fame FS Charles Woodson.
This team has gotten older, but have they gotten better? Well, that will be determined by Schaub. It's easy to write him off after a horrible 2013 season, but five consecutive good season before that one says that he's probably capable of being "fixed". That puts him at the same crossroads that Philip Rivers was at last offseason. While he may not have Ken Whisenhunt and Mike McCoy there to help him, those are not the only two guys capable of helping build an offense around a QB's strengths.
If the Raiders could find a way to get Schaub back to his 2009 Pro Bowl form, when he threw for over 4,700 yards and 29 TDs against just 15 INTs, they would have a guy that's "worth at least six wins". A little good luck on their part, a little bad luck for San Diego (such as a bunch of injuries), and they could find their way to third place in the division, parking the Chargers in last.
There you have it. It's not very likely the Chargers finish in fourth place in the AFC West, but the two scenarios above are ways in which it could potentially happen. Now we get to move on to the (slightly) happier posts in the series...