The NFL released its 2014 regular seasons schedule on Wednesday, and it’s made an optimist out of me. The past few years, I’ve gone on record projecting that the Chargers would struggle against a slate of teams with more talent, a serious advantage in time zones (early games on the East Coast), or both.
This year’s different.
I won’t make any bold predictions. But even the most pessimistic Chargers fan – or headiest Raiders fan – must admit that the 2014 Chargers can contend with the clubs put in front of them.
Take the first seven games. The Bolts face:
· A tough Arizona team on the road and the Super Bowl champs at home; but then…
· Two AFC East also-rans in three weeks, broken up by a Jacksonville team that, despite some solid free agent additions, still desperately needs players; and,
· Oakland and a bound-to-regress Kansas City team, both on West Coast time.
Make no mistake: none of these teams will roll over for the Bolts. But it’s hardly out of the realm of possibility for the Bolts to hold serve at home against the AFC squads, and Mike McCoy and company will implement a game plan to at least compete with Seattle and Arizona.
Things get tougher from there: back-to-back contests against Denver and a more complete Miami team, the latter an early start on the East Coast. After a bye and Oakland at the Q, the Chargers face a ferocious fivesome of St. Louis, Baltimore, New England, Denver, and San Fran. After Week 11, the Bolts may not be favored again in 2014.
But a 6-1 or 5-2 record going into the first Denver game is not unrealistic. And this Chargers team proved that it can contend with the AFC’s top squads on the road last year. Teams like Denver, Baltimore, and San Fran will surely not look past Phillip Rivers and Co.
If the Bolts post nine wins against this group, it will be an achievement – but these are the NFL’s elite! And if the Chargers pull that off, and nine wins qualifies them for the postseason tournament for a second straight year, heed the warning Cincinnati ignored last year: watch out for the Chargers in the playoffs.