SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
2015 Record: 4-12-0
Head Coach: Mike McCoy
New Faces for 2016 - WR Travis Benjamin, WR James Jones, S Dwight Lowery, DL Brandon Mebane, CB Casey Heyward, TE Jeff Cumberland
OFFENSE: Philip Rivers is back for his eleventh season as Chargers starting quarterback after passing for 4,792 yards last season with 29 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The backup(s) will be Kellen Clemens and/or Zach Mettenberger.
The targets for Rivers to throw to include his go to guy, tight end Antonio Gates, who made 56 catches last year for 630 yards and five touchdowns and (provided he's fully healthy) Keenan Allen, who had 67 receptions for 725 yards and four scores before going down with a season ending injury just eight games into the season.
Other receivers include James Jones (50, 890, eight TD with Green Bay) and Travis Benjamin, who comes over from Cleveland after making 68 grabs for 966 yards and five touchdowns. Stevie Johnson is lost for the year with a knee injury. Rookie tight end Hunter Henry (Arkansas) will look to spell Gates in games this season.
The running game features Melvin Gordon (641 yards, 3.5 ypc average) and Danny Woodhead, who ran for 336 yards (3.4 ypc) and three touchdowns while also leading the team with 80 receptions for 755 yards and six scores. Branden Oliver is insurance in the backfield.
DEFENSE: In the 3-4 set, the Chargers would like to see top rookie pick Joey Bosa (Ohio State) playing the end position along with Corey Liuget (three QB sacks) while Brandon Mebane plays the nose tackle spot. Bosa seems to be in a bitter holdout over contract payment details as camp concluded this summer. Sean Lissemore and Darius Philon are ready to go when needed.
The linebackers include Manti Te'o and Denzel Perryman on the inside with Jeremiah Attaocho (six sacks) and Melvin Ingram (10 1/2 sacks) on the outside. Kyle Emmanuel and rookies Joshua Perry (Ohio State) and Jatavis Brown (Akron) will provide backup.
The secondary has Jahleel Addae and Dwight Lowery at the safety spots while Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett (three interceptions) man the corners. Steve Williams (two picks), Matt Daniels and Darrell Stuckey are the primary subs. Adrian Phillips, Craig Mager and free agent Casey Hayward (Green Bay) are also available.
OUTLOOK: Coming off their second losing season in four years and their worst record since 2003, the Chargers are amped up to prove last year was a fluke.
Head Coach Mike McCoy brought back offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt this season.
In 2013, QB Philip Rivers had one of his best ever seasons under the offense called by Whisenhunt and the team is hopeful they can do the same again this year.
The weapons are there for Rivers to spread the football around to, but the running game, in particular second year RB Melvin Gordon (no TD in rookie season) must step it up this year. Better pass protection is a must. Rivers was sacked 40 times last season. He's one of the best quarterbacks in the league when given time to throw the ball.
The defense has talent as well, but they gave up too many big plays in crucial moments a year ago and that led to NINE one-score losses that resulted in a last place finish in the AFC West.
For the Chargers to improve this year, the defense must improve against the run (125 yards allowed per game in 2015) while also giving up just under 25 points per game. A better pass rush would also help. San Diego had only 32 sacks last year.
It's a tall order for this team to turn it around, but never count Rivers out. The defense and the running game will be the key factors as to whether the Chargers can bolt back into playoff contention for the first time in three years.
Fearless forecast - 6-10 this year
2016 TEAM SCHEDULE
Week 1 - at Kansas City
Week 2 - vs. Jacksonville
Week 3 - at Indianapolis
Week 4 - vs. New Orleans
Week 5 - at Oakland
Week 6 - vs. Denver
Week 7 - at Atlanta
Week 8 - at Denver
Week 9 - vs. Tennessee
Week 10 - vs. Miami
Week 11 - BYE
Week 12 - at Houston
Week 13 - vs. Tampa Bay
Week 14 - at Carolina
Week 15 - vs. Oakland
Week 16 - at Cleveland
Week 17 - vs. Kansas City