Don’t overlook the San Diego Chargers. They’re not getting a lot of love lately, but they could be a darkhorse contender in the AFC.
They’re just overshadowed in their division. The Broncos have won it for the last four years in a row, so they’re in the driver’s seat. With a stout, healthy defense, a great running game and a new weapon for the aerial assault, the Chiefs are thought of as a close second, a team that should push Denver all year and that may catch them when all is said and done.
And then there are the Chargers. Third in the AFC West, not typically considered much of a contender. Sitting in near perfect position to have a breakout year and be that team that no one saw coming.
After all, when Philip Rivers is playing his A game, he’s a top ten QB in this league. We haven’t seen that from him in a while, in part due to injuries, but he should be healthy and ready to go this year. If he’s back at Pro Bowl form, can you really count the Chargers out against anyone? A QB of that caliber can absolutely elevate a team and win a lot of games.
The Chargers also addressed their biggest need at the RB position with this year’s draft. Running back has really held them down the past few years. Every time Rivers would start playing well and the defense would come together, Ryan Mathews would get hurt. The Chargers would become one-dimensional and they’d start losing.
Now, they have perhaps the best RB in college football last year—Melvin Gordon. They definitely have the best college RB who is not coming off of a major knee injury.
Don’t put too much pressure on the kid, who hasn’t played a down yet, but he has a chance to round out this offense and make it great.
If he does, the pressure comes off of the passing game, and that opens things up for guys like Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd, Jacoby Jones and Stevie Johnson. The Chargers actually have a number of playmakers at the wideout position; it’s a group that, like the team as a whole, doesn’t get enough respect.
The Chargers also added Orlando Franklin this offseason, and he’ll help on both ends. The hulking offensive lineman can buy time for Rivers and keep him healthy—crucial to the team’s success—and he can also plow open enormous holes for Melvin Gordon. Combined with King Dunlap and DJ Fluker, the Chargers have a powerful line that will just tower over a lot of defensive fronts.
Again, in a continuing theme, the line doesn’t get enough credit. Franklin was cast off from Denver as if the Broncos didn’t want him, though he’d performed very well. You know they’ll be out to prove exactly what they’re worth, and they have the physical build to get it done.
In short, this is a team that could be stacked. Recent years have not panned out how they’d hoped, but much of that was due to injury. When they were all healthy and playing well at the beginning of the year, fans saw flashes of what they could do. A third of the way through the season, they were five and one.
Then injuries hit, losses piled up, and they fell out of the playoff picture. But, if they can stay healthy this year, it’s already clear just how good they can be, and the roster is even better than it was in 2014. They’re a darkhorse pick, but they’re one of the safer gambles in recent memory, and they could surprise a lot of people.