This is the fourth of a 13-part series breaking down the off-season moves, coaching changes, draft and 2015 outlook for each opponent of the Kansas City Chiefs, counting down to their foe for Week 1. Today we look at another AFC West rival – for now, at least – one of the original AFL teams, and a team that could be playing their last season in San Diego, the Chargers.
Team: San Diego Chargers
2014 Record: 9-7 (3rd in AFC West)
All-time Series Record: 54-54-1, 0-1 in playoffs
Last Regular Season Meeting: Chiefs won 19-7 at Arrowhead (12/28/2014)
Last Postseason Meeting: San Diego beat the Chiefs 17-0 in 1st round (1/2/1992)
2015 Schedule: Week 11 in San Diego, Week 15 at Arrowhead
Top 5 players: QB Philip Rivers, S Eric Weddle, TE Antonio Gates, CB Brandon Flowers, K Nick Novak
Notable draft picks: RB Melvin Gordon, LB Denzel Perryman, LB Kyle Emanuel
Notable offseason additions: OT Orlando Franklin, WR Stevie Johnson, WR Jacoby Jones, a healthy Danny Woodhead
Notable offseason departures: WR Eddie Royal, LB Dwight Freeney, RB Ryan Mathews, S Marcus Gilchrist
If things go right, the San Diego Chargers can win the AFC West division in a battle with the Chiefs and Denver Broncos. They have talent all over the field and one of the better quarterbacks in the league under center.
On the other hand, with a myriad of distractions surrounding their stadium status and contract squabbles with certain players, things could go bad quickly. The AFC West has two teams on the verge of moving and the Chargers could potentially find themselves in the same position as the Oakland Raiders if they move – a team playing out the string in a half-empty stadium with an apathetic fan base feeling betrayed by the team’s pending move to a new home in Los Angeles. Or Carson. Or San Antonio, Or London. Or … well, you get the picture.
Throw in the fact that the hottest rumor around the NFL Draft in May was a potential trade of quarterback Philip Rivers to the Tennessee Titans, a contract impasse with Pro Bowl safety (and Chiefs killer) Eric Weddle, and a four-game suspension of future Hall-of-Fame tight end Antonio Gates to begin the season, and it won’t take much to make the wheels fall off for Head Coach Mike McCoy.
McCoy enters his third year at the helm and must break through the roadblock that KC and Denver have thrown up in the Chargers’ way. He has finished in third place behind those two rivals in both seasons, although he did guide the Chargers to the playoffs in 2013.
Offensively, this team goes as far as Rivers can take them. The 33-year old from North Carolina State was statistically good again in 2014, throwing for 4,286 yards and 31 touchdowns, but he also continued his trend of throwing a ton of interceptions – 18, the second-most of his career.
But for Chiefs fans, the biggest number to put next to Rivers’ name in 2014 was “zero”, as in, the number of times Rivers beat KC last season. Rivers had been 13-4 in his career against the Chiefs but lost both games last year. The Chiefs obviously hope that trend continues into 2015.
To help ease the burden off Rivers strong right arm, the Chargers traded up in the NFL Draft to grab the top-rated running back, Melvin Gordon out of the University of Wisconsin. Gordon single-handedly will raise the Chargers’ low-ranked rushing game (30th out of 32 teams) and keep pass rushers honest.
Perhaps the biggest improvement for Rivers will be the return of 3rd-down specialist, Danny Woodhead, who broke his leg in Week 3 last year and was lost for the season. Woodhead is a perfect safety valve for Rivers on third down and at a small 5-foot-8-inches, can sometimes hide behind his bigger offensive linemen to escape the view of tacklers.
Keenan Allen is by far the bright spot on an otherwise average group of receivers and the four-game suspension of Gates will hurt the Chargers during September. The rest of the receiving corps – Steve Johnson, Malcom Floyd, Ladarius Green, and Austin Pettis will have their moments in the spotlight at times, but are average at best.
Defensively, other than Pro-Bowler Weddle and defensive end Corey Luiget, it’s not an intimidating bunch. They aren’t necessarily big or fast and the team finished 2014 with a franchise-low sack total of 26. Liuget is a force in the 3-4 alignment, but he led the team with 4.5 sacks, and that is not how the 3-4 is supposed to work. San Diego is counting on disappointing 2012 top draft pick, outside linebacker Melvin Ingram (4 sacks) to finally make a difference.
Former KC Chief Brandon Flowers still remains in the secondary, but he still gets burned in coverage too much. Cornerback Jason Verrett lost his rookie year to injury, but his cover skills were terrific in college so there is hope he can make an impact.
Special teams is spectacular as far as the kicking game goes with punter Mike Scifres and kicker Nick Novak. They are two of the best in the league and Scifres, in particular, can flip the team’s momentum by burying the opponent deep on their own end of the field with one of his booming long-distance punts.
Bottom line: If the stadium thing doesn’t blow up in their faces, the Chargers will be right there in the hunt for the AFC West crown at the end of the season. As a Chiefs fan, I wish they could fix their stadium problem and stay in San Diego, but I can’t shake the feeling that they will be sharing a stadium with the Raiders five years from now in Los Angeles or Carson, California.
Previous articles in the series:
Oakland Raiders (Weeks 13 & 17)
Cleveland Browns (Week 16)
Baltimore Ravens (Week 15)