San Diego didn't look like a playoff team last year after losing 17-10 in Cincinnati in Week 13 to drop to 5-7. However, the Chargers won their next three games, including a shocker in Denver, to give themselves a chance in Week 17 against Kansas City, which had nothing to play for. The Chargers rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter hole to tie it, and got a huge gift when Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop missed a 41-yard game-winner at the end of regulation. San Diego won it 27-24 in OT to become the sixth team under the current playoff format to make the playoffs after starting 5-7 or worse through 12 games. The Chargers were big underdogs in the wild-card round at frigid Cincinnati, but upset the Bengals 27-10, thanks to four Bengals turnovers. Cincinnati had been unbeaten at home last year.
San Diego's season ended with a 24-17 defeat in Denver in the divisional round, but played the Broncos well. McCoy made a name for himself as the Broncos' offensive coordinator from 2010-12 and leading very different, but successful, schemes with Tim Tebow, and then Peyton Manning, as his quarterback. McCoy and Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt worked wonders on Philip Rivers. He had been a turnover machine the previous few seasons, but Rivers was the best QB (not named Manning) in the AFC last season, throwing for 4,478 yards and 32 touchdowns while completing a league-high 69.5 percent of his passes. Rookie Keenan Allen emerged as a future star, catching 71 passes for 1,046 yards and eight scores.
Key Offseason Moves
The Chargers were one of the more quiet teams in free agency. They re-signed linebacker Donald Butler (84 tackles) and guard Chad Rinehart, added Colts running back Donald Brown (537 yards rushing, six TDs) to back up Ryan Matthews, and former Rams QB Kellen Clemens to do the same to Rivers. The biggest loss wasn't a player but Whisenhunt, who took the head coaching job of the Titans. Whisenhunt took an Chargers offense that ranked 31st in the league in 2012 and turned it into NFL's No. 5 unit. Former NFL QB Frank Reich is San Diego's new offensive coordinator, promoted from quarterbacks coach.
2014 Schedule (all
Week 1: Monday, Sept. 8, at Arizona, 10:20 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, Seattle, 4:05 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Jacksonville, 4:05 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, NY Jets, 4:25 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Oakland, 4:05 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, Kansas City, 4:05 p.m.
Week 8: Thursday, Oct. 23, at Denver, 8:25 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, Oakland, 4:05 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, St. Louis, 4:05 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, New England, 8:30 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Denver, 4:05 p.m.
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 20, at San Francisco, 4:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Kansas City, 1 p.m.
San Diego has the fourth-toughest schedule in the league with an opponents' 2013 winning percentage of .563. The Chargers will play seven postseason teams from last year.
If the Bolts can start no worse than 1-2 they might be in good shape, because the schedule eases up significantly through Week 12. San Diego is a 3-point underdog on NFL odds for Week 1 at Arizona, the only 10-win team to miss the playoffs last year. It's the third straight year San Diego has opened in the late game of the Monday night double-header ( 1-1 in the previous two). Curiously, San Diego and Arizona also close the preseason against one another. Think either coach will show anything in that one? Uh, no.
Clearly the Chargers will be dogs in their home opener against the Super Bowl champions in Week 2, but they have a winnable third game in Buffalo -- especially since it won't be frigid in upstate New York, yet. San Diego will be a significant favorite over the Jaguars, as they won 24-6 in Jacksonville last season. In fact, there's no reason why the team can't go unbeaten from Week 3-Week 7. The Chargers won't be afraid of playing in Denver on a short week in Week 8, either. That's the exact circumstance in how the Bolts upset the Broncos there in 2013. One of the Chargers' toughest losses of last year was in Miami, 20-16, when a Rivers pass intended for Vincent Brown was knocked down in the end zone as time expired. The Bolts haven't won a regular-season game in Miami since 1980.
To top 8.5 wins, San Diego probably needs to be no worse than 7-4 heading into Week 13, because that last five-game stretch is brutal. The Chargers have won eight straight home finals, and did sweep Kansas City a year ago, too.
Free NFL picks: 'Over' 8.5 wins at -110 on NFL odds. If the Chargers can go no worse than 6-2 at home -- with losses to Seattle and Denver, for example -- then reaching at least nine wins again looks very doable with winnable road games in Arizona, Buffalo, Oakland, Miami and Kansas City. Winning in Denver, Baltimore or San Francisco may be too much to ask.