Today, Pro Football Focus released their AFC projections for the 2016 season after dropping their NFC projections yesterday. Those projections are less than bullish on the prospects of the San Diego Chargers. They are not only picked to finish in last place in the AFC West; they are the only team in the division that isn't being projected to make the playoffs.
With a record of 11-5, PFF has the Oakland Raiders winning the division for the first time since the 2002 season. To help you appreciate how long ago that was, Rich Gannon was still throwing to Jerry Rice. This year's version of the silver and black is led by third-year quarterback Derek Carr and Amari Cooper on offense and perennial NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate Khalil Mack. Neither Las Vegas odds nor Football Outsiders' projections like the Raiders nearly so much as PFF does, but you can certainly see how someone could draw this conclusion based on the talent they have.
Coming in second at 10-6, the Denver Broncos are projected to take the first wild card slot in the AFC. Despite all of the talent lost on defense and the retirement of arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game of football, Pro Football Focus' projections are still very high on the defending Super Bowl champions. It's not hard to see why. Wade Phillips' defense led by the likes of Von Miller and Chris Harris shows no real signs of slowing down. Historically, few defenses repeat performances like what the 2016 Broncos did, but the coaching staff and roster certainly look capable of repeating if anyone can.
Taking the last playoff spot in the AFC, the projected 9-7 Kansas City Chiefs also finish ahead of our San Diego Chargers. The Chiefs are returning most if not all of their best players, but PFF apparently doesn't see them having done enough this offseason to catch Denver or to keep up with Oakland. I don't agree with that ranking, but all three teams do appear to be playoff caliber and when 1st and 3rd are only separated by two games, it's tough to quibble too much with the order.
Finally, you have the Chargers. At a projected 6-10, they are the only team in the division to finish under .500 and outside of the playoff picture. Here's what PFF had to say about the Chargers:
In 2015, the Chargers played a little better than their 4-12 record suggests, but not enough happened over the offseason to make us believe San Diego will be a lot better. They made some solid moves in free agency with cornerback Casey Hayward, safety Dwight Lowery, and center Matt Slauson, but they also lost talent in safety Eric Weddle (Ravens), cornerback Patrick Robinson (Colts), and wide receiver Malcom Floyd (retired). Their biggest move was adding defensive end Joey Bosa, the man with the most QB hits in college football last season (21). They simple don’t have enough star power to make a strong playoff run. Their only player with a grade above 85.0 last year—and under the age of 30—was cornerback Jason Verrett, who has yet to allow 100 passing yards in a game, and ended the season allowing just 8 and 7 yards in his last two games, respectively.
That strikes me as a less than charitable view of the Chargers' offseason. It ignores the additions of Ken Whisenhunt and Travis Benjamin on offense as well as the equally important (and beneficial) departures of Trevor Robinson (I know, they haven't cut him yet, but give it a few days) and Frank Reich. They also somehow left out what was arguably the Chargers' biggest signing of free agency, Brandon Mebane. The immense nose tackle will completely change the complexion of the defense and instantly makes the run defense respectable. The fact that Denzel Perryman will be starting the season and that Donald Butler is but a (miserable) memory is also a massive difference.
I'm not going to say the Chargers can't finish in last place (they could; the division is very strong), but the idea that very little happened over the offseason to make them better is silly at best.