The Los Angeles Chargers are going through their annual paces of the NFL hype train. This time, they need to make it happen or make real changes.
Every year, the media looks at offseason additions and subtractions, draft classes and draft grades, and then makes wildly speculative predictions. Why? Because you all love them, and because we’re bored.
Few teams have consistently been pumped up more by the scribes going into training camp than the Los Angeles Chargers. Each summer brings waves of predictions making the Chargers a threat to the New England Patriots and a favorite in the AFC West, only to see them fall flat.
This year, there has been more of the same. Los Angeles was relatively quiet in free agency, signing center Mike Pouncey while allowing safety Tre Boston to test the market. Other than that, the Chargers are relying on healthier seasons from Forrest Lamp, Jason Verrett and Mike Williams, along with contributions from a well-regarded rookie crop.
This optimism is furthered by the reshaping of the Kansas City Chiefs, who have completely overhauled their team. Out are Marcus Peters, Alex Smith, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Ron Parker. In are Patrick Mahomes, Kendall Fuller, Anthony Hitchens, Sammy Watkins and David Amerson. There is reason to believe the Chiefs, two-time defending division champs, will falter.
With the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders seemingly ticketed for mediocrity, there is truly no time like the present for Los Angeles. Philip Rivers remains elite, but at 36 years old, Father Time is creeping up. Once Rivers declines, so to do the Chargers.
Additionally, few teams have the compete roster that resides in Tinseltown. The Chargers have a magnificent quarterback, a top-end hoard of weapons in Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Melvin Gordon and Hunter Henry, the best duo of pass-rushers in football with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, and a trio of shutdown corners in Desmond King, Casey Hayward and Verrett.
Yet the following also must be said. Last year, much of the aforementioned paragraph was also true, and Los Angeles stumbled to an 0-4 start before finishing 9-7 and out of the playoffs. In Week 15, the Chargers earned a de facto AFC West title game with the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, a contest they were favored in. Instead of showing up, they were blown out 30-13 behind four turnovers and a defensive effort that yielded nearly 400 yards of offense.
And that’s where much of the optimism must begin and potentially end for the Chargers; in Kansas City. The Chiefs have defeated them eight consecutive times over the past four years, doing so by an average margin of 12.4 points per game.
Come Week 1, the Chiefs travel to Los Angeles. Crazy to say, but there may be no bigger game for the Chargers all season, especially with the rematch coming on a Thursday night in Week 15 (again) in potentially frigid Arrowhead Stadium (again).
Should Los Angeles falter once more in 2018 and fail to reach the postseason for the fifth straight season, changes have to be both considered and made. Looking at the cap situation, the Chargers are somewhat strapped going into 2019 with $18.8 million of projected space. Major free agents loom in Tyrell Williams, Denzel Perryman, Brandon Mebane and Verrett, along with cap decisions on Travis Benjamin, Corey Liuget, Joe Barksdale and Pouncey.
It’s tough to keep everybody when you continue running on a treadmill to oblivion.
For now, Vegas has the Chargers favored to win their first division crown since 2009. There are ample reasons to believe that Los Angeles can not only win the West but battle for a Super Bowl berth with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Patriots.
After all, it’s May, and when better a time for dreams?
Ultimately, though, the Chargers have to prove their worth. They have to live up to expectations for the first time in a long time.
Come Week 1, their biggest nemesis will be staring them in the face, giving the Chargers an opportunity to make a statement and seize control. For once, they better take it.
Top 10 stars with something to prove
1. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
2. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
3. Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns
4. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
5. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
6. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
7. Thomas Davis, Carolina Panthers
8. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
9. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
10. Clay Matthews Jr., Green Bay Packers
“We chose to suck. We chose not to do it as well as we can do it. I say that all the time, ever since I’ve been in coaching,” Monken said Thursday. “Everyone has to take a bite of it because I always say, ‘We sure as heck want the credit when we win.’ I do. I want some of the credit. And we’ve gotta own it when we don’t. When we don’t score and we don’t take care of the ball, when we don’t do the little things that allow [ourselves] to win, then [we’ve] gotta own it.”
– Tampa Bay Buccaneers coordinator Todd Monken on his team’s red zone struggles in 2017
The Buccaneers were one of the most disappointing teams a year ago, falling from 9-7 to 5-11. If Tampa Bay can’t turn it around, Monken and the rest of the coaching staff will be out the door, while the new regime tries to fix Jameis Winston.
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The longest punt in NFL history belongs to Steve O’Neal of the New York Jets, who netted 98 yards in a 1969 game against the Denver Broncos. Incredibly, a quarterback is responsible for the league’s third-longest boot. In 1989, Philadelphia Eagles’ star Randall Cunningham recorded a 91-yard punt at Giants Stadium.
Info learned this week
1. Browns to be featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks
On Thursday, it was announced that the Cleveland Browns would be the featured team on HBO’s Hard Knocks this summer. Cleveland, which has won a single game over the past two seasons, has a legion of intriguing storylines, led by rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield.
If nothing else, the Browns are finally getting some national camera time. Cleveland is normally only trotted out in front of a large audience when LeBron James is involved. Now, the Browns will take center stage in the annual five-episode series, hoping to give fans a reason to believe.
Cleveland is the second team from Ohio to participate the series, with the Cincinnati Bengals having done so back in 2009.
2. Reuben Foster appears innocent after shocking testimony
After accusing San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster of domestic violence, Elissa Ennis, Foster’s former girlfriend, recanted on Thursday during a hearing. Ennis stated that her intent was to ruin Foster’s career despite never having hit her. Ennis also said that money was a motivated factor for her in lying to authorities.
With that testimony, Foster appears to be cleared of any wrongdoing. At this juncture, Foster can hopefully move on with his life, while we wait to see if Ennis is charged for falsely accusing the 24-year-old of such a heinous crime.
After being told to stay home from the 49ers’ OTAs during his legal situation, one would imagine that San Francisco welcomes him back immediately. Foster, a first-round pick in 2017, is an integral part of the rebuild overseen by general manager John Lynch.
Despite missing time due to a knee injury, Foster played 10 games and notched 72 tackles as the middle linebacker of a young front seven.
3. Ravens follow Falcons’ lead on stadium prices
For years, you would be hard-pressed to find a bigger rip-off than stadium-priced food and drinks. Last year, the Atlanta Falcons introduced very affordable concessions at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and after robbing people for years, the Baltimore Ravens have decided to follow suit.
Frankly, it’s stunning more teams haven’t gone this route. The Ravens are slashing prices across the board, but by doing so, people are likely going to by more of the product. It stands to reason that Baltimore will make more money than before with the inflated prices, all while making the customer feel good. It’s a nice win-win, and well done by the Ravens.
4. Terrell Owens taking shots at Jason Garrett
The career is over, but the mouth continues. In a recent radio interview with 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, Terrell Owens took some pointed shots at Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, stating it is “mind-boggling” that he remains employed. Garrett has been in his current position since being promoted midway through the 2010 season to replace Wade Phillips.
Owens was long gone from the Cowboys at that point, having played his final season with the team in 2008. At 44 years old, the five-time First-Team All-Pro also says he can still play at the NFL level, although he’s never going to get the chance.
The real shame is that Owens’ career should be remembered as one of the all-time great ones. Instead, it will be a mixed bag of talent and turmoil.
5. Allen Robinson progressing well for Bears
The Chicago Bears took an expensive leap of faith this offseason, signing Allen Robinson to a three-year, $42 million deal after he tore his ACL in Week 1 of last season. Now, Bears head coach Matt Nagy says Robinson is ahead of where he was expected to be in his return, boding well for training camp participation.
Robinson was incredibly productive in 2015 for the Jaguars, racking up 80 receptions, 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns in a Pro Bowl campaign. However, his numbers dipped to 73 catches and 883 yards in 2016, although much of that can be attributed to the Blake Bortles factor.
In 1979, the Los Angeles Rams went to the Kingdome to play the Seattle Seahawks. Both teams were seemingly on the road to nowhere, with both sporting 4-5 records (the Rams ended up 9-7 and in the Super Bowl).
The game would never be remembered if not for an incredible stat. The Seahawks went for -30 passing yards on the afternoon in their 24-0 loss, and had -7 total yards. It remains the most inept performance on record for any NFL team.
The Detroit Lions have not won a playoff game since 1991, having beaten the Cowboys at the Pontiac Silverdome before being blown out by the Washington Redskins in the NFC title game.
It seems impossible to go through Matthew Stafford’s entire career without breaking that streak, but simple math says we’re more than halfway home. Stafford, the first-overall pick in the 2009 draft, turned 30 years old in February. In nine seasons, Stafford has thrown for 34,749 yards and 216 touchdowns, but he’s without a single NFC North title or postseason victory.
Matt Patricia now takes over the team, the third since Stafford was selected. If he can’t get the Lions over the proverbial hump, they might be running out of time with one of the best quarterbacks in football. Patricia has to figure out a way to support Stafford better, considering he’s only had one 1,000-yard rusher alongside him (Reggie Bush) and never a rushing attack that ranked in the top half of the league.
The Lions still have time to take advantage of a terrific advantage under center, but time is ticking loudly.