AFC Championship Game
I could have made a stat prediction, but instead I'm going to go with something a little bigger. I think the Chargers make it to the AFC Championship Game. Whether or not they go further, I don't know, but this year's team seems to have "it".
Whether it's the offseason softball and dodgeball teams, the run of good health through the preseason, the defense that seems poised to make a big jump in performance, or the offense filled with playmakers that create mismatches (and arguably the best QB in the league without a Super Bowl appearance), this just seems to be the right year for them. I think they will take advantage of young talent that may soon be gone (Ryan Mathews, Shareece Wright) and older talent looking for one last shot (Jarret Johnson, Dwight Freeney, Antonio Gates) and go on a deep playoff run before their "window" gets a little bit smaller.
Jerome R. Watson
San Diego sweeps the NFC West but misses out on playoff bid at 9-7.
San Diego goes 3-3 within the division but a brutal lineup of December (where they go 1-3) opponents will prevent the Chargers from participating in the Winter Tournament.
The Chargers will miss the playoffs this year.
The 2014 San Diego Chargers will be a superior team to the 2013 Chargers, but they will not have the same success. Last year's team barely sneaked into the playoffs with a ton of help despite a relatively easy schedule. This year's schedule isn't as tough as it looked a month ago, but it's still tougher than last year's.
8 sacks for Kendall Reyes.
I will be the first one to tell you how much I hate the "sack" stat. The best pass rushers get a sack on roughly 2% of their snaps, and that is a horrible way to gauge what the player is doing for the other 98% of the time. Some sacks also come easier than others, which is why I believe Reyes will be able to rack them up this year. I see Corey Liuget having a fantastic year, and as the strongest player on the front seven he will command plenty of double teams. Kendall Reyes will have plenty of opportunities to rush the passer in 1-on-1 situations or split gaps on the defensive line, which is where he excels. 8 may not seem like a crazy number, but considering the team leader last year (Liuget) had 5.5, it would be a huge boost to the team's pass rush.
Malcom Floyd stays relatively healthy for the entire season, sets career high in yardage.
Floyd wouldn't have been cleared to play in the NFL with a serious neck injury, so I'm considering that only a minor risk to his 2014/15 season. He's missed time for a handful of maladies in the past: a hobbled knee last preseason, an ankle injury in 2012, a jaw injury during a game in 2012, a groin injury in 2012, a hip injury in 2011, a concussion in 2011, and so on. The knee injury wasn't a structural issue, the ankle injury IR trip was because the injury was sustained in week 15, the jaw injury required no missed time, the groin injury placed him on the ‘Questionable' list for a few weeks, the hip injury kept him out for a few weeks, but he returned to an instant 100+ yard performance, and so on. The point here is that none of those injuries were chronic ailments, but moreso along the lines of general NFL wear and tear. This is obviously a bold prediction given his consistent injury history; this is more a statement that Malcom has as good as a chance as most NFL players at lasting 16 games at the receiver position, as I think this is (more-or-less) luck.
I don't think many would question that if he could stay healthy for all 16 games, he would have a solid chance to break 856 yards.
The Bolts lead the league in yards from scrimmage from the RB position, with no RB gaining more than 1,000 yards rushing or 1,000 yards receiving.
This may not be the boldest prediction out there, as the Chargers have a true 3 headed monster in the back field (and Brandon Oliver waiting in the wings). PR is comfortable dumping off to backs, in 2010, the receptions leader for the team was a back (Sproles). With Woodhead, Brown, and Mathews all being capable receivers, I could see all three having at least 40 receptions; figure 60 for Woodhead. Add in 200 rushes with a 4 YPC average for Mathews and Brown, that is 1,600 yards on the ground, and figure Woodhead gets another 200 over the season. Receiving yards I would project at 700 for Woodhead, 400 for Mathews and 300 for Brown. That adds up to 3,200 yards from scrimmage from the backfield and should lead the league.
The Chargers will have the best pass defense in the NFL.
I know what you're thinking, "with only eleven interceptions and one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL last year, how do they turn it around?" Two things are major factors:1. the return of Freeney and Ingram as well as the addition of Attaochu. 2. Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers.
The trio of Freeney, Ingram, and Attaochu will bring a more than potent enough pass rush to give a shorter time of coverage for the secondary. This will help with routes that take time to develop and just overall spaces in coverage. Pass rushing also helps prevent coverage breakdowns.
Verrett and Flowers are two perfect corners fit for the off-ball/zone-man switch scheme that the Chargers run. They both have great fundamentals when playing off-ball by watching the QB and will help out Weddle, Gilchrist, Wright, and Addae.
Eric Weddle, Brian Wilson, James Harden, and Rick Ross will form like Voltron and give birth to a foundation that benefits men unable to grow facial hair.
Danny Woodhead will partner with a local campaign, spearheading a movement that eradicates the bullying of youth boys with long hair.
Keenan Allen will stop wearing Los Angeles and Oakland affiliated apparel and will begin supporting local, sustainable brands.
Nick Novak will make a winning 40-yard field goal in the final minutes of the Chargers' second round playoff game against the New York Jets.
2014 is Ryan Mathews' last year as a Bolt.
I get the sense that, while productive, neither Telesco nor McCoy trust Mathews. He was able to play in all 18 games last season and had a career year, but injuries hampered him throughout the season and his lack of availability doomed the Chargers in their season-ending loss to Denver. I believe he'll have a productive year, but with a recently resigned Danny Woodhead and proven back Donald Brown behind him, Telesco won't deem it a priority to give him big money, and I think he'll walk to a team with a greater need for a back. Mathews is a great running back and I think he'll have a great season, but is he worth the money that he'll command on the free agent market? I say no, and I believe Tom Telesco will take the same position.
Chargers win the AFC West
Hypothetically speaking, Wes Welker's 4 game suspension is a bigger deal than people realize and Denver isn't as good on 3rd downs as they were a year ago. The Broncos young front gets gashed as a run defense, Demarcus Ware can't stay healthy, and Aqib Talib is a downgrade from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. But it's not all about Denver. San Diego's defense is really as improved as fans believe it is. Brandon Flowers is the real deal, Jason Verrett is the stud we all think he is, and Melvin Ingram plays up to his nickname. The offense keeps humming under Frank Reich and Philip Rivers plays at an MVP level for the 2nd consecutive season. Lastly, Mike McCoy doesn't botch late half/game management and this go round, the Chargers are the beneficiary of a couple extra wins. I think people automatically assume that for the Chargers to be good, Denver has to be bad. That's not the case. Weird things like this happen every year in the NFL.
San Diego defense is a top ten defense (rated by DVOA) and Philip Rivers sets the NFL completion percentage record (current leader: Drew Brees, 2011, 71.2%) and Ladarius Green catches 10+ TD's.
On the defense, the hopeful view is that a competent pass rush (healthy Freeney, Ingram plus others), coupled with improved cornerbacks, leads to a competent pass defense. The run defense improves with a healthy Butler and improved T'eo and Telesco helps finds needed depth and players at NT. The offense continues to be a clock chewing, efficient machine, so the defense can stay fresh and play hard.
Rivers' season last year (69.5%) was good for the 6th best season of all time. That was the first year with McCoy and Whisenhunt. While Reich is coming in, the preseason looks and what he says sounds like more of the same but more of the hurry up offense, which I love. When the team has a single back (all three can run and catch), two WR and two TE (Green, Gates), there are so many options available for both running and passing that I foresee (hope?) that Rivers will be able to run a very efficient offense, even against some of the those frightening NFC West defenses.
The Green 10 TD is a kind of random metric. I expect him to be better, not sure if it appears in catches, yards and/or TD's. But I think Gates may still get a lot of shorter catches, so that may erode Green's stats but I think his explosiveness and height leads to TD's. Again perhaps more aspiration than hard thought, but he seems like he has all the tools needed to be one of the top TE in the league. His biggest barrier, to accumulating gaudy stats, is Gates, but I am hoping that the Green gets his fair share of looks and plays and that he will shine when he does.
The Chargers crack the NFL's top 5 in red-zone TD scoring.
According to the 2014 Football Outsiders Almanac, the Chargers led the NFL last season in yards per drive at 40.1, but were only 26th in the NFL in converting red-zone opportunities into TDs - they scored TDs on only 50.8% of their chances. This will improve because of the following factors... Donald Brown is a very good short yardage and goal-to-go running back (IMO, this is the primary reason he was signed in free agency - being an insurance policy against a Mathews injury and/or 2015 departure was secondary). David Johnson is a strong lead blocker and underrated pass-catcher. Keenan Allen and Ladarius Green have a full year of experience behind them. A healthy Malcom Floyd adds another tall target (one of four at 6"2' or taller) and the benefit of having played 10 seasons with Rivers. Antonio Gates, while no longer an explosive downfield threat, still has the short area quickness and understanding of defenses to get open quickly - or draw enough attention to create a mismatch elsewhere.
It goes without saying the Chargers could have won 2 or 3 more games last season (Tennessee, Washington, Denver at home) with better red-zone efficiency. If it improves as much as I expect this season, the Chargers become 2014's most dangerous dark-horse candidate to reach the Super Bowl.
Mike McCoy wins Coach of the Year for the Chargers at least making it to the AFC Championship Game against considerable odds.
McCoy has been criticized for being too conservative but in his second season he opens things up more and the offense explodes. Rivers and Allen become 2014's Montana-Rice combination while Mathews and Brown keep defenses honest with each posting 1,000 yard seasons. 2014: A season to remember.
Dwight Freeney will win come back player of the year.
After two injury riddled seasons, the 34-year-old gets back to his former self, terrorizing QB's on his way to an 11 sack season. Freeney is two years removed from posting 8.5 sacks for the Colts, and even though he is a bit longer in the tooth now, his desire to prove that he's still one of the best in the business to sack opposing QBs will be matched by very few around the league. The Chargers defense has improved in several aspects, which will allow Freeney to showcase his talented pass-rushing skills; the depth they have at the OLB position will also help to keep Freeney healthy. Freeney has 108 career sacks, which puts him at 22nd on the all-time list. Someone this talented at rushing the passer brings the ability to change fortunes for a defense, and Dwight Freeney looks like he still has a lot of fight left in him. With Freeney's production, this unit will also finish with 55 sacks, 20 more than last year's total, and in the top 5 in total sacks.
Philip Rivers is named MVP
In the past he's been in the VIP line, but his name wasn't on the list. This is the year Rivers headlines the club. In his second term under coach Mike McCoy's system and continuing his work with newly promoted coordinator Frank Reich, Rivers will lead the Chargers to a 12-4 record, completing 72% of his passes for 4,900 yards, 40 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, and a career high passer rating of 115. Rivers will beat former Super Bowl winners Joe Flacco, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning (twice: once in the regular season and once in the playoffs) to solidify his place as the second Charger to win MVP in the past decade.
Ruben J. Gonzalez
San Diego Chargers win the AFC West
The Chargers will exceed expectations and rattle off a few winning streaks that propel them to the top of the AFC West standings. Its starts with an opening season win against the Cardinals followed by a loss to the defending champion Seahawks. But San Diego strings together 5 straight wins to move to 6-1 before their week 8 loss at Denver. The Chargers will win against the Dolphins and Raiders, but have a hard time against the Rams despite being at home. They win the following week at the Ravens but return home and lose to the Patriots. San Diego does not lose again in the regular season, finishing with a 3 game winning streak including victories over Denver, San Francisco and Kansas City. Chargers finish at 12-4.
Meanwhile, the Broncos sputter out of the gate at 1-2 before their week 4 bye. Another loss along the way and both Denver and San Diego will be tied at 9-3 for their December 14th showdown, where the Broncos finish the year like they started going 1-2 including a loss to San Diego. Denver finishes the season 10-6.
Let us know your bold predictions for the Chargers!