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Preseason Power Rankings No. 16: San Diego Chargers

Philip Rivers AP

The 2013 Chargers earned the AFC’s final wild card berth on the final day of the regular season, and were they ever the definition of a wild card.

Of the Chargers’ seven losses a season ago, six were by one score or less. They were 5-2 against playoff clubs but a mere 4-5 against also-rans, including defeats to Oakland, Washington and Houston.

But in the end, San Diego got hot at the right time, winning four in a row to end the regular season. Then, in the postseason, the Chargers proved they belonged, upsetting the favored Bengals in Cincinnati and putting up a fight in a loss at Denver in the divisional round.

In all, it was a successful first season for Chargers head coach Mike McCoy, who oversaw a club that always seemed to give itself a chance to win. And was it ever a splendid return to top form for quarterback Philip Rivers, who again looked like one of the best in his profession.

In some ways, the Chargers might have been ahead of schedule a season ago. The question is, what growth are they capable of this time around?

Strengths.

The Chargers’ offense is formidable. Rivers was fun to watch in 2013, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and ranking near the top of the NFL in passing yards gained per attempt (8.2). He was sacked 19 fewer times in 2013 than in the previous campaign (30 vs. 49), which speaks well of McCoy’s scheme and the work of the offensive line, which stepped up its play.

No team was better on third downs than the Chargers, and no quarterback may have been better than Rivers in such situations. Per STATS LLC, Rivers converted first downs on a league-high 49.4 percent of his passing attempts (77-of-156).

Rivers has multiple capable targets. Second-year wide receiver Keenan Allen starred as a rookie, hauling in 71 passes for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns. Tight end Antonio Gates (77 catches, 872 yards, four TDs) is a key security blanket for Rivers, as is tailback Danny Woodhead (76 catches, 605 yards, six TDs). Wide receivers Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown and Eddie Royal and tight end Ladarius Green will also get their shots to contribute, too.

The Chargers’ running game is no slouch, either. Lead back Ryan Mathews racked up 1,255 yards a season ago in a career-best campaign. Ex-Colt Donald Brown gives San Diego another starter-caliber rusher behind Mathews. In addition to his pass catching, Woodhead can chip in a few carries per game.

Finally, the Chargers’ defense appears stronger than a season ago. Free safety Eric Weedle is a standout, while ex-Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers could be just what the secondary needs. Defensive end Corey Liguet (12.5 combined sacks in the last two seasons), inside linebacker Donald Butler and outside linebacker Melvin Ingram are nice defensive foundation pieces for now and the future.

Weaknesses.

The Chargers allowed more yards per rush and per pass than any other AFC a team a season ago. Even if San Diego’s defense is better — and it should be, with Flowers arriving and Ingram and Dwight Freeney returning from injury-shortened campaigns — this isn’t a shutdown group by any stretch.

The play of the outside linebackers will be key for the Chargers. Liguet (5.5 sacks) paced the club in sacks in 2013, with fellow end Kendall Reyes finishing second with five sacks. For a club employing a 3-4 base scheme like San Diego, the outside ‘backers must generate some pressure off the edges.

On offense, the play of the Chargers’ line still bears some monitoring, even after the improvements made a season ago.

Changes.

The Chargers’ most important changes could come in the secondary, where Flowers and first-round pick Jason Verrett should bolster the cornerback corps. Those additions came after the club cut ties with corner Derek Cox, who struggled in his lone season in San Diego.

The Chargers have a new offensive coordinator, with Frank Reich replacing Ken Whisenhunt, who became the Titans’ head coach. San Diego has also made a change at backup quarterback, with Kellen Clemens (ex-St. Louis) signing on to replace Charlie Whitehurst, who followed Whisenhunt to Tennessee.

The Chargers’ RB depth chart is a little more crowded with the addition of Donald Brown, who led the Colts in rushing a season ago. He effectively replaces Ronnie Brown as one of the club’s top three backs.

Camp battles.

Several positions bear watching:

—   Right guard: Incumbent Jeromey Clary comes off shoulder and hip surgery; can third-round pick Chris Watt push him for the job?

—   Cornerback: Flowers, Verrett and holdovers Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall are the top four options at the position. Flowers seems likely to garner a major role, but how quickly will Verrett adjust to the NFL game?

—   Running back: How will the reps be split between Mathews, Woodhead and Brown?

—   Nose tackle: Sean Lissemore, Ryan Carrethers and Kwame Geathers are among the options. Cam Thomas, one of the regulars at the position a season ago, signed with Pittsburgh.

—   Outside linebacker: There could be some healthy competition here, with Ingram, Freeney, Larry English, Jarret Johnson, Thomas Keiser and rookie Jeremiah Attaochu all in the mix for work.

Prospects.

The Chargers’ schedule is both inviting and challenging, with the biggest tests right out of the gate and down the stretch.

The Chargers begin with a pair of challenging out-of-conference games at Arizona and vs. Seattle. A 0-2 start is quite possible, given the degree of difficulty of those matchups.

Then comes a five-game run that could ultimately make or break the Chargers’ season. The next five opponents — the Bills (away), Jets (home), Jaguars (home), Raiders (away) and Chiefs (home) — are all conference opponents ranked behind San Diego in PFT’s preseason power rankings. Here’s a chance for the Chargers to stack up some important AFC wins — and they must do so.

Similarly, the Chargers need to make hay in the early part of November. They begin the month at Miami (Nov. 2), then take their bye. Then comes home games vs. Oakland (Nov. 16) and St. Louis (Nov. 23). The Chargers may have to sweep this three-game stretch, considering their next five games — their final of the campaign — are at Baltimore, home vs. New England, home vs. Denver, at San Francisco and at Kansas City.

In all, the schedule seems a perfect test for the Chargers. If their offense remains potent and efficient, and if their defense has improved, the Chargers could get rolling, and they could prove a challenging matchup for anyone, even those strong outfits they face in the final weeks.

The Chargers didn’t blink in tough situations a season ago, which makes them all the more intriguing in 2014. But can they move forward? It probably comes down to whether they can get a few more stops on “D.” They are going to score their share of points.

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51 Responses to “Preseason Power Rankings No. 16: San Diego Chargers”
  1. nflgiant says: Jul 15, 2014 9:42 AM

    11-5 at best………….8-8 at worst……..

  2. ctiggs says: Jul 15, 2014 9:50 AM

    #Nobodyhasitbetter

  3. jimthebuilder27 says: Jul 15, 2014 9:53 AM

    Still at the outdated Qualcomm I see. Doesn’t matter, they’re moving to LA. Book it!

  4. tigeralum2010 says: Jul 15, 2014 9:55 AM

    These power rankings are terrible

  5. vaughnjoe says: Jul 15, 2014 9:56 AM

    LETS GO CHARGERS 2014!!!

  6. bassplucker says: Jul 15, 2014 9:58 AM

    Seems about right to me. Middle of the road ranking for a middle of the road team.

    They really do need to start making plans for life after Phillip Rivers, though.

  7. pencilmonkeymagic says: Jul 15, 2014 10:01 AM

    Chargers could well be a dark horse this year.

    Y’know, like the Browns, who still haven’t appeared on the list.

    Please, PFT, put the Browns in the Top 10. The growing meltdown – with each passing rank in which Cleveland aren’t mentioned – makes for glorious reading.

  8. jimmyt says: Jul 15, 2014 10:04 AM

    Still ranked too high. Seems like the “experts” have been picking (trying to will) them to win it all since the days of Stan Humphries.

  9. vtown77 says: Jul 15, 2014 10:16 AM

    This team is allot better than # 16 In the rankings
    Should be in the top five

  10. unbridledsexy says: Jul 15, 2014 10:19 AM

    You say they won four at the end, but that last one was by the skin of their teeth against the KC second string with the help of some questionable calls/kick. Wonder what they would be ranked if they had lost that game. In the meantime KC is ranked one place behind these guys. You guys must be pulling this list together from your new Headquarters in Colorado.

  11. sportsfan18 says: Jul 15, 2014 10:21 AM

    Mike McCoy was good for them. The Chargers are a solid team and if things break their way, they could make some noise.

    Rivers is better than folks think he is too.

  12. elliottcovert says: Jul 15, 2014 10:21 AM

    To me this seems a few spots too low, I think they’re around top 10.

  13. youpeopleareallthesame says: Jul 15, 2014 10:24 AM

    Maybe it’s just me trying to save a little face by having my team knocked out by this one…

    But this ranking seems kinda low.

  14. bhlobos says: Jul 15, 2014 10:33 AM

    Hmm… if my math is right, looks like 6 games they should win, 3 games they can win, and 7 games that would be a surprise if they win…

    I like Rivers and his weapons, but if they get 9 wins this year, they’ll have earned every one of them.

  15. tahnoonzee says: Jul 15, 2014 10:37 AM

    Super Bowl bound.

  16. pittsburghfan71 says: Jul 15, 2014 10:50 AM

    pencilmonkeymagic says:
    Jul 15, 2014 10:01 AM
    Chargers could well be a dark horse this year.

    Y’know, like the Browns, who still haven’t appeared on the list.

    Please, PFT, put the Browns in the Top 10. The growing meltdown – with each passing rank in which Cleveland aren’t mentioned – makes for glorious reading.

    ————————-

    Browns were 22nd on the list.

  17. kd75 says: Jul 15, 2014 10:53 AM

    You have the Chargers ahead of the Giants?

    SMH…

  18. southpaw2k says: Jul 15, 2014 10:55 AM

    pencilmonkeymagic says:

    “Chargers could well be a dark horse this year.

    Y’know, like the Browns, who still haven’t appeared on the list.

    Please, PFT, put the Browns in the Top 10. The growing meltdown – with each passing rank in which Cleveland aren’t mentioned – makes for glorious reading.”

    Browns were #22 on this list.

    And I don’t think the Chargers will overachieve the way they did last year.

  19. chargersdiehard says: Jul 15, 2014 10:56 AM

    Chargers are gonna get the Lambardi this season.

  20. chargersdiehard says: Jul 15, 2014 11:03 AM

    I still think we would have given Denver a better game had wisenhunt not been on three head coaching interviews that week. They need to make a rule change on interviews during the playoffs.

  21. chargersdiehard says: Jul 15, 2014 11:05 AM

    kd75 says:

    You have the Chargers ahead of the Giants?

    SMH…

    We beat you 37-14 about 6 months ago. You’re that much better now?

  22. thefiesty1 says: Jul 15, 2014 11:07 AM

    Won’t even make the playoffs as a wild card with this ranking. Rivers is done, stick a fork in him.

  23. raiderrob21 says: Jul 15, 2014 11:14 AM

    What a joke these rankings are. The LA Chargers will finish last in the AFC West.

  24. unbiasednfltruth says: Jul 15, 2014 11:24 AM

    This is about right… the Chargers have a balanced offense with lots of highs and lows and their defense is about the same.

    Lots of potential but its almost like the team takes plays off or something because sometimes the energy doesn’t seem to be there.

    Anywhere from 7-10 wins is possible and 16th sounds about right… I think this is the first ranking I agree with.

  25. wydok says: Jul 15, 2014 11:31 AM

    I wonder if the Chargers regret firing Norv Turner. They haven’t gotten as far as Norv took them since he was fired. Then again, I wonder if they regret letting Drew Brees go.

  26. albanyhawker says: Jul 15, 2014 11:37 AM

    when you do these kinds of lists, each post should contain a link back to the entire list as it stands. that way folks who miss a few posts can go back and see them. just a suggestion.

  27. bullcharger says: Jul 15, 2014 11:37 AM

    kd75 says:Jul 15, 2014 10:53 AM

    You have the Chargers ahead of the Giants?

    SMH…

    —————-

    The Chargers made the playoffs last year and the Giants didn’t. The Chargers also killed the Giants last year. The Giants didn’t really get better on paper, so I don’t see them making the playoffs this year. SD have a chance again.

  28. richmondbolt says: Jul 15, 2014 11:38 AM

    Teams that one could make an argument that are better than San Diego:

    Seattle
    Denver
    San Fran
    New England
    Green Bay
    New Orleans
    Carolina (Although I think they regress)
    Arizona (maybe, we’ll find out week one)

    Feel free to add, If you can.

  29. pencilmonkeymagic says: Jul 15, 2014 11:41 AM

    “pittsburghfan71 says:
    Jul 15, 2014 10:50 AM
    pencilmonkeymagic says:
    Jul 15, 2014 10:01 AM
    Chargers could well be a dark horse this year.

    Y’know, like the Browns, who still haven’t appeared on the list.

    Please, PFT, put the Browns in the Top 10. The growing meltdown – with each passing rank in which Cleveland aren’t mentioned – makes for glorious reading.

    ————————-

    Browns were 22nd on the list.

    – – – – – – –

    Ah rats! Missed it!! There’s my entertainment gone.

  30. tennesseeoilers says: Jul 15, 2014 11:44 AM

    Many sportswriters credit former OC Ken Whisenhunt with sparking Philip Rivers’ turnaround. If their take is correct, it’ll be interesting to see how Rivers performs without his QB whisperer on hand …

  31. jetsmmt says: Jul 15, 2014 11:47 AM

    The Chargers smashed the Giants last year, maybe you missed that.

  32. riverhorsey says: Jul 15, 2014 11:57 AM

    Not bad for a team the Chiefs second team all but beat on their home field with a playoff birth on the line the final game of the year.

  33. gbatap says: Jul 15, 2014 12:05 PM

    So the Chargers d gave up more yards per pass then any other team last year and the solution was go out and get two short cbs while the rest of the league gets bigger?

    This team barely beat the Chiefs second stringers and only with help from the zebra. I’m not sure why so many in the media are so horny for this team as a ‘dark horse’.

  34. tedmurph says: Jul 15, 2014 12:25 PM

    Philly
    Indy
    Balti
    Pitts
    Chic

  35. socalcharger says: Jul 15, 2014 12:34 PM

    I don’t mind the Chargers not being considered a Super Bowl contender since the team and city historically do not handle hype well, but 16 is a laughable ranking.

    At worst, this is basically the same team they walked into Cincy and soundly beat the Bengals. There are a bunch of players who will make an impact in 2014 that really didn’t in 2013: Melvin Ingram, Brandon Flowers, Dwight Freeney, Malcom Floyd, Jason Verrett. Who did the Chargers lose? Ronnie Brown? No one they deemed irreplaceable.The Chargers also have a bunch of young players who haven’t hit their peak yet in Keenan Allen, Ladarius Green, Manti Te’o, Donald Butler, Corey Liuget, DJ Fluker.

    Are the Eagles, Bengals and Colts really better than the Chargers even though the Chargers beat them in their last meeting? The 4-12 Falcons, 8-8 Ravens, 8-8 Steelers who all didn’t make the playoffs are better?

    If not devastated by injuries, the Chargers should be a top 12 team and will win a playoff spot in spite of the ridiculous schedule. I’m not going to go as far to call the Chargers a Super Bowl contender quite yet, there really are only 6 or so teams that truly are championship contenders: Seahawks, Niners, Broncos, Pats, packers, saints, but if the youth keeps developing and the team stays healthy, the Chargers can enter that conversation.

  36. Chris Ritchie says: Jul 15, 2014 1:12 PM

    Ha. Who cares where a website ranks them or any team for that matter. Games are decided on the field. I think there are a TON of teams who are not excited about playing the Chargers.

  37. dumdolt says: Jul 15, 2014 1:28 PM

    and yet again the Dolts are the greatest middle of the pack team in the nfl!

  38. tedmurph says: Jul 15, 2014 1:50 PM

    Every team has young guys that should make the jump and injured guys coming back. The Bolts have an outstanding offense. Their defense couldn’t stop a decent offense last yr and they didn’t do enough to fix it in the offseason, IMO. Pittsburgh and Balti should be back this yr, which leaves the Chargers and a few other flawed teams(Bengals, KC, etc) fighting it out for the last playoff spot and a quick exit.

  39. National Fanatic says: Jul 15, 2014 2:12 PM

    Chargers will sweep the AFC West. SD has been underrated for the last 4 years, and they still are.

    Rivers will earn an MVP.

  40. natelan69 says: Jul 15, 2014 2:14 PM

    Oh man, Chiefs fans are mad!!!

    GO CHARGERS!!!

    Real ranking 14-10. But anything above the super mad Chiefs works for me!

    We all know that he Chiefs will be battling with the Raiders for last place again, just like they always do and where they belong.

  41. theshivusregall says: Jul 15, 2014 2:15 PM

    I have a hard time taking this post seriously…Who in the Blue Hell is Eric Weedle?!

  42. humb0lt says: Jul 15, 2014 3:34 PM

    This is a good place to rank the Chargers. Thank you PFT.

  43. teambolt5000 says: Jul 15, 2014 4:43 PM

    Offensively the Chargers were top five last year. Defensively, the Chargers were middle of the road against the run and bottom five against the pass. AND they got better, in just about all aspects, especially against the pass. Signing CBs Flowers and Verrett will help improve them to at least a middle ranking. That alone is good for two wins.

    There is no way they are ranked 16. I would put them at 10-12.

  44. braxton29 says: Jul 15, 2014 5:16 PM

    People say that they “barely beat the Chiefs back-ups,” but forget that they beat the Chiefs’ starters. Haters say that they had no defense last season, but were completely oblivious to the fact that every starting LB on the roster was injured forcing them to rely on back-ups like Thomas Keiser, Larry English, Reggie Walker or the fact that they ran a 3-4 without a NT or that despite their flaws on the defensive side of the ball they were the only team in the AFC that kept Peyton’s offense under 30 points per game.

    They didn’t lose anyone significant in FA and they had a decent draft class, so on paper, the Chargers look improved but how much remains to be seen.

    Do I think they are going to get into the playoffs this season? I don’t know because their schedule is tough but I do know that the Chargers are going to go as Philip Rivers goes. As long as Rivers plays smart and decisive and has help from everyone around him, the Chargers are going to be a competitive team. That I am certain of.

  45. wahoo21 says: Jul 15, 2014 8:15 PM

    The Chargers are ranked perfect….if they exceed this ranking then everybody will say….. I told you so and if they fall then everybody will say…..I told you so.
    Rankings only matter after the last game and if your not first…..you’re last so who really cares what PFT thinks……San Diego doesn’t.

    Phillip Rivers was never broken….he played for Norv in a “chuck and duck ” offense and almost got killed…. and its no wonder that Rivers had a great year after Norv ws shown the door…..he actually had a O line ( Thank you Joe D ) and not one but two offensive coordinators with a third acting as a QB coach. People seem to forget that Mike McCoy was a pretty good OC before he got the Head Coach job….Whiz was using SD to catch his breath before he became a Head Coach again and Frank Riech came out of that K-Gun offense in Bufffalo. Besides, is there really anybody that has more fun playing football than Phillip Rivers ? I doubt it….not only can he talk it…….( ask Jay Cutler about that )….he can walk it.
    San Diego has a great chance this year and if they make it to the final game it wont be because it was handed to them….they will have earned it.

  46. teambolt5000 says: Jul 15, 2014 8:40 PM

    The Chargers ranking at 16 was the only article regarding the rankings that PFT has done that wasn’t posted twice on the same day. I’m not sure if it was even posted once. Not to worry though. Just like last year, nobody even gave the Chargers a second look while they were quietly building a great team and in the end surprising a lot of people.

  47. faaast1 says: Jul 16, 2014 9:51 AM

    wydok says:
    I wonder if they regret letting Drew Brees go.
    ———————————————————-
    I saw the Bronco cheap shot that tore up Brees’s shoulder.
    What I wonder is why the San Diego media did not rerun that play over & over, and make the identity of that bush league Bronco, abundantly clear.
    Re Norv:
    His record got progressively worse, year by year.
    He’s a great offensive co-ordinator, but an awful head coach.

  48. fanme57 says: Jul 16, 2014 1:53 PM

    Playing the NFC West doesn’t make anyone’s life any easier, the scheduling gods didn’t do the Chargers any favors, opening at Arizona, and then Seattle, (on 10 days rest).

    I think overall, San Diego was ranked low, somehow Atlanta and Pittsburgh are ranked above them, (how, exactly?)
    I see San Diego finishing 2nd in the AFC West, behind Denver, and they will give Denver fits.

  49. correctingerrors says: Jul 16, 2014 3:02 PM

    There was a point in January last year where all but 5 teams were eliminated. The Chargers were one of those 5 teams.

  50. nineball26 says: Jul 16, 2014 9:42 PM

    Chargers were clearly the best team in the AFC last season they got the HAMMER from the officials, wow so blatant too, anything to make a buck though..

    the Bolts just have to do what the Seahawks are doing, play so ferocious that 20 penalties against you doesnt hurt and finally the officials just give up..

    just like they did n the Superbowl,I saw those bogus flags against the Hawks and all that BS they let the Donks get aways with and the Hawks still stomped thier guts out..

    thats how you have to set your mind, play so well that 4 TD’s and 20 penalties wont hurt you, play likeyouare already 50 pnts in the hole and the quarter is your last..

    only way to play anymore, take the officials out of the game

  51. babygaga19 says: Jul 20, 2014 3:08 AM

    So when will Rivers ever deliver>? Most hyped qb in the NFL!

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