2012 San Diego Chargers Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 8/3/2012
Whenever a sportsbook releases a prop on the first NFL head coach to be fired in 2012, I will be utterly shocked if San Diego’s Norv Turner isn’t the favorite.
Has any team done less with more talent the past four years than San Diego? The Bolts were 8-8 in 2008 a year after reaching the AFC title game (they did still win the weak AFC West that year). San Diego bounced back with a 13-3 mark in ’09 and the No. 2 seed in the AFC, only to be upset at home in the divisional round by the Jets. And the last two years, San Diego has missed the playoffs entirely with 9-7 and 8-8 records, respectively.
Mark it down: Turner is a goner if the team doesn’t win at least one playoff game this year and GM A.J. Smith probably is too. Ownership has a pressing need for a good season as a deep playoff or Super Bowl run would certainly help with momentum in the stadium drive or make the Chargers the most alluring team that Los Angeles might want to get.
Last season San Diego got off to an uncharacteristically good 4-1 start and once again looked like it might be among the AFC’s elite. But that five-game beginning was misleading because three of the wins were over teams that didn’t make the playoffs (Minnesota, Kansas City and Miami) and the other was over a Denver team that had just hit rock bottom and, in fact, brought a then-backup named Tim Tebow in for the second half vs. San Diego and he almost rallied the Broncos to a victory.
The wheels then fell off after San Diego’s bye in Week 6 with six straight losses. To be fair, the Bolts were in all of them and lost only one by more than a touchdown – two by a field goal in overtime. The Chargers probably saved Turner’s job with a 4-1 finish.
As usual, San Diego had one of the NFL’s best offenses last season, ranking No. 6 in total yards and tied for fifth at 25.5 points per game. QB Philip Rivers threw for 4,624 yards and 27 touchdowns – probably every team other than New Orleans, New England and Green Bay would take that. However, Rivers was a turnover machine with 20 interceptions and a handful of lost fumbles. San Diego was minus-7 in turnover differential because it gave it away 28 total times.
After a fairly disappointing rookie season, Ryan Mathews showed why he was a 2010 first-round pick with 1,091 yards rushing and six TDs in 2011 along with 50 catches for 455 yards. Those numbers should all go up because Mike Tolbert, who stole some touches last year, is now in Carolina. The club did sign Ronnie Brown to back up Mathews. Rivers lost his top receiver in Vincent Jackson, but the Bolts went big in free agency in signing Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal and Roscoe Parrish. Add in returnees Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown, and that’s a pretty deep group. All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates is finally fully healthy and should have a monster season. The Bolts did have to replace former Pro Bowlers Marcus McNeill and Kris Dielman on the line.
The Chargers were so-so defensively last year, ranking 10th in the AFC in yards allowed per game and 12th in points per game (23.6), but all those Rivers turnovers didn’t help matters obviously. John Pagano is the new coordinator – the team’s third in three years -- and the goal is to create more takeaways, more negative plays and especially improve on third down stops, which the Chargers were last in the AFC at in 2011 (teams converted a whopping 49.2 percent of the team).
To improve a pass rush that ranked 10th in the AFC in sacks, the Bolts drafted South Carolina outside linebacker/end Melvin Ingram in the first round this year, and he will be counted on as a pass-rushing specialist immediately. Offseason addition Atari Bigby should help fortify an iffy secondary.
2012 San Diego Chargers Schedule Analysis
The Chargers have the sixth-toughest schedule this season based on an opponents’ 2012 winning percentage of .520. San Diego has six games vs. teams that had winning records last season (a bit misleading considering two other AFC West foes also finished at 8-8 last year).
San Diego had been a notoriously slow starter under Turner but turned that around last year by winning four of its first five as noted above. Has that problem been solved or was it just a one-year fluke? This year the Bolts open at Oakland, a team they used to own but have dropped three of the past four against (split last year, each winning on road). There are really no games before San Diego’s bye that you can point toward and mark down a sure W. I could see anywhere from 4-2 to 2-4 in the first six. That Week 5 game at New Orleans could be the highest-scoring NFL game of 2012.
After the bye, the Chargers have a good chance to go on a three-game winning streak as they face 2011 non-playoff teams Cleveland, Kansas City and Tampa Bay. After traveling to Denver in Week 11, four of San Diego’s final six are at home. But look for the Bolts to be battered come Week 15 as from Week 12-14 they have to face three very physical AFC North teams in Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Like last year, the season concludes against the Raiders.
2012 San Diego Chargers NFL Futures Odds
On 5Dimes, the Chargers are +2500 to win the Super Bowl – the “matchup” involving San Diego with the lowest odds is vs. Green Bay at +4500. San Diego is +950 to win the AFC and +430 to play in the AFC title game. To win the AFC West, San Diego is second favorite (barely behind Denver) at +180. The Bolts’ regular season win total is nine, with the “under” a slight -120 favorite.
2012 San Diego Chargers Predictions
I realize that any team is in trouble if its starting quarterback goes down for any length of time – just ask last year’s Bears when Jay Cutler was lost for the season while injured against, ironically, the Chargers. But the Bolts are really up the creek if Rivers goes down. Right now his backup is Charlie Whitehurst. Chicago learned its lesson last year and got a veteran backup (Jason Campbell) for Cutler. The Bolts could wish they did the same.
San Diego is one of those weird teams where 6-10 wouldn’t shock me, but neither would reaching the Super Bowl. The offense should be fine – take Mathews in the first round of those fantasy drafts! – but the defense lacks playmakers. I would say 9-7 for the 2012 Bolts, which will be just enough to win the mediocre West. I wouldn’t take the AFC title game prop, however. If Rivers gets hurt early in the season and is done, this team will be lucky to go 5-11.
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