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2007 Season Previews
San Diego Chargers (Last Year: 14-2)
Veteran Additions:
None
Draft Picks:
WR Craig Davis, WR Legedu Naanee, TE Scott Chandler, ILB Brandon Siler, ILB Anthony Waters, S Eric Weddle.
Major Subtractions:
WR Keenan McCardell, WR Az Hakim (MIA), TE Ryan Krause (CLE), TE Aaron Shea, OT Leander Jordan (ATL), ILB Donnie Edwards (KC), ILB Steve Foley, ILB Randall Godfrey, CB Paul Oliver, S Terrence Kiel.

Offense This Year: I never called Philip Rivers a bust or a bad prospect, but I questioned A.J. Smith for trading Drew Brees and siding with Rivers, who had thrown only 30 passes prior to the 2006 campaign. I thought Smith’s choice a mistake because San Diego was a veteran team on the cusp of a Super Bowl appearance. Rivers proved me wrong, as he compiled 3,388 yards, 22 touchdowns and only nine picks. His inexperience was a liability in the playoffs, however, as he failed to complete 50 percent of his passes.

That said, how could Rivers possibly fail with LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates by his side? All Tomlinson did was set the all-time touchdown record with 31. Gates chipped in with 924 receiving yards and nine scores of his own. Meanwhile, the offensive line didn’t receive the credit it deserved. Marcus McNeill, who probably should have won Offensive Rookie of the Year, along with tackle Shane Olivea, guards Kris Dielman and Mike Goff, and center Nick Hardwick are all back. They’ll continue to form one of the premier offensive fronts in football.

The only starter on this side of the ball who won’t be back is Keenan McCardell. McCardell's a big name, but he notched only 36 passes for 437 yards in 2006. Given that he turned 37 in January, that’s not a surprise. I wanted the Chargers to pursue a big-name wide out via free agency, but Smith opted to stand pat. Thus, Rivers' receiving corps will be comprised of Eric Parker, Vincent Jackson and rookie Craig Davis. This is the San Diego's only weak link on offense, but the unit as a whole should be better now that Rivers has a year under his belt.

Defense This Year: The Chargers registered 61 sacks in 2006. Let me type that number in again: 61 sacks! Shawne Merriman led the way with 17 despite being suspended for four games. Shaun Phillips, playing outside linebacker opposite of Merriman, registered 11.5 on his own. Both players were able to move freely because their stop unit has the best three-man defensive line in the NFL. Luis Castillo, Igor Olshansky and especially Jamal Williams are incredible at clogging running lanes, permitting the linebackers to make plays.

While Merriman, Phillips and the linemen will all be back, the team's top three inside linebackers - Donnie Edwards, Randall Godfrey and Steve Foley - are all gone. The Chargers didn't acquire a replacement until the third round of the draft (Anthony Waters). Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm are currently listed atop the depth chart. The former saw some action last season, obtaining 53 tackles and 2.5 sacks. The latter, however, only managed 27 tackles, all of which were past the line of scrimmage.

With 61 sacks on the board, it's hard to imagine San Diego's secondary struggling at all. While it has been pitiful in years past, the unit surrendered just 3,212 passing yards in 2006. Quentin Jammer picked off four passes, while the newly acquired Marlon McCree provided veteran leadership that the Chargers desperately needed. Things fell apart, however, when Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell scorched the group for 17 catches and 183 yards in the postseason. I guess that’s why A.J. Smith gave up a king’s ransom for rookie safety Eric Weddle. Jammer, Weddle and second-year Antonio Cromartie will be the future of San Diego's secondary, but don’t expect miracles from such a young corps this season.

Schedule and Intangibles: A.J. Smith fired Marty Schottenheimer because he couldn't win in the playoffs. OK, so why hire Norv Turner, who's just as bad in the postseason? The move doesn't make sense to me, but maybe Smith knows something I don't. ... Both of last year's coordinators, Cam Cameron and Wade Phillips, are also gone. ... Remember the field goal Nate Kaeding missed in the 2004 playoffs against the New York Jets? No one in San Diego does - after going 21-of-24 in 2005, Kaeding hit 26-of-29 last season, nailing 8-of-10 from beyond 40 yards. ... Punter Mike Scifres is one of the league’s best at pinning teams inside the 20. ... For the second consecutive season, the Chargers failed to return a single punt or kickoff for a touchdown, which is something that definitely needs to change. ... San Diego was able to pad its 2006 record against creampuffs like Tennessee, San Francisco, Cleveland, Arizona, Buffalo, St. Louis and a struggling Pittsburgh squad. While the Chargers commence the 2007 campaign against Chicago and New England, they’ll have the luxury of pounding Green Bay, Houston, Minnesota, Detroit and Tennessee.

Additional Reading: Endless Banter coming soon.

Positional Rankings (0-4 stars):
Quarterbacks
Offensive Line
Secondary
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams
Receivers
Linebackers
Coaching


Divisional Rival History:
Denver Broncos: The home team has won nine of the last 12 meetings, although San Diego claimed both last season, coming back from a 24-7 deficit at Mile High to win 35-27 amid a Jake Plummer implosion. I'm expecting a split now that Denver has upgraded the quarterback position.
Kansas City Chiefs: The host has been victorious in 15 of the previous 18 battles, while eight of the last 11 have been decided by five points or less. The Chargers rarely win at Arrowhead (1-8 since 1996), so look for another home split.
Oakland Raiders: Not even close. The Chargers have won the previous seven meetings. That number will increase to nine in the near future.

Fantasy Football:
Philip Rivers: Rivers' stats should increase a bit, given that Marty Schottenheimer didn't let him loose until the fifth week of the season. However, Rivers will never be a fantasy stud as long as Tomlinson is the one always rumbling into the end zone.
Projected Stats: 3,650 passing yards. 25 passing TDs. 50 rushing yards. 0 rushing TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 337.

LaDainian Tomlinson: If you don't take LaDainian Tomlinson with the first pick of your fantasy draft, you might as well burn the money you're spending on the league. If the league's free, you're just embarrassing yourself.
Projected Stats: 1,700 rushing yards. 550 receiving yards. 23 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 363.

Antonio Gates: Gates' receptions, yards and touchdowns decreased a bit in 2006 because he was playing with a rookie quarterback. He'll bounce back this season.
Projected Stats: 1,050 receiving yards. 11 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 171.

Vincent Jackson: A possible late-round sleeper, Jackson caught only seven passes prior to Nov. 19. From then on, he registered 20 receptions, 357 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers translate to 816 yards and nine scores for an entire season. He's worth a late-round pick.
Projected Stats: 850 receiving yards. 8 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 133.

Eric Parker: Parker actually had more yards than Keenan McCardell, but like the veteran wide out, he couldn't get into the end zone. That should change with a more experienced Rivers at the helm, but I still wouldn't draft him.
Projected Stats: 700 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 82.

Craig Davis: Worth a late second-, early third-round selection in a keeper league. If you're playing traditional fantasy football, look into Vincent Jackson if you really want a Charger receiver.
Projected Stats: 300 receiving yards. 1 TD.
Projected Fantasy Points: 36.

Nate Kaeding: Kaeding has missed only 11 field goals in his entire NFL career, so he's dependable. However, he has just one attempt from beyond 50 yards since 2004.
Projected Stats: 24-28 FG (1-2 50+). 55 XP.
Projected Fantasy Points: 135.

San Diego Defense: Read what I wrote under San Diego's defense - 61 sacks! 'Nuff said.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Top 3 Defense.

Analysis: The Chargers, a top-five NFL team, won't run away with the AFC West this time around, given that the Broncos have improved themselves. However, the franchise's main goal is advancing deep into the offseason, which is something I don't see with Norv Turner on the sideline.

Projection: 12-4 (Tied 1st in AFC West)


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