2014 NFL Preview: San Diego Chargers

2014 NFL Preview: San Diego Chargers

The 2013 Chargers won their last four games en route to an improbable Wild Card playoff berth. Then they blasted Cincinnati 27-10 before giving Denver everything they could handle in the Divisional round. As such, the expectations in 2014 are high. Head coach Mike McCoy used smoke and mirrors on offense and coaxed career seasons from quarterback Philip Rivers and running back Ryan Mathews. A defense lacking true stars managed to finish 11th in points allowed and held the Broncos’ potent attack under 30 points in all three meetings. It’s safe to say San Diego won’t be sneaking up on anyone once September rolls around. Here’s a preview of their upcoming season.

Outlook: The Chargers return essentially the same starting lineups on both sides of the ball as last season. They didn’t lose many players, but they didn’t gain many either. The hope is that Rivers, Mathews, and second-year receiver Keenan Allen stay healthy and build upon recent success. The development of tight end Ladarius Green is also key. Antonio Gates toughed out a solid effort in 2013, but he’s 34 and on the downside of a brilliant career. The defense welcomes back Dwight Freeney from a torn quad and is counting on Manti Te’o making the leap in his second year.

New arrivals: Brandon Flowers was plucked from the scrap heap 11 days after the Chiefs released the Pro Bowl corner. His interception totals have dipped each season since 2011 and he was absolutely abused by T.Y. Hilton in the playoff loss to Indy. That said, he immediately upgrades the secondary. And so does rookie Jason Verrett, who lacks ideal size, but makes up for it with bulldog-like tenacity. Donald Brown was shaky at best during his five seasons as a Colt and his place in the crowded Chargers’ backfield is uncertain. If nothing else, he provides a bit of insurance for Mathews. Seventh-rounder Tevin Reese is a playmaking burner who could find a niche in a still unsteady receiving corps.

Wave goodbye: The inking of Brown made veteran Ronnie Brown expendable; his post-Dolphin days have been less than stellar, meaning he won’t be missed. Longtime clipboard holder/ballcap wearer Charlie Whitehurst took his backup quarterback show to Tennessee, which means no more glimpses of his long locks and manicured beard on the San Diego sidelines. Cam Thomas was hardly a household name, but he was a decent rotational defensive tackle who is now a Steeler. Derek Cox didn’t do enough to impress during his one season, so he bolted for the Vikings.

Over/Under wins – 8: They begin the season with the Cardinals and Seahawks, then end it against the New England, Denver, San Francisco, and Kansas City. To call those matchups “difficult” would be an understatement. This team plays hard and smart, but an alarming lack of proven depth is cause for concern. They’ll need to spring an upset or two and not drop any stinkers to reach 9 wins. A tall order, indeed.

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