It's not news that the last two seasons in San Diego have been disappointing.
After being the cream of the AFC West and among the conference elite for the majority of the last decade, the Chargers have missed the playoffs for two straight seasons for the first time since 2002-2003.
In a move that surprised many, both GM A.J. Smith and Head Coach Norv Turner were brought back for one more season, but the pressure is on for everyone in the organization as the rest of the division is closing the gap.
Here's a look at the best and worst case scenarios for the Chargers in 2012:
As complicated as it can sometimes seem, football usually comes down to three things: Efficient quarterback play, taking care of the football, and winning on 3rd down.
The Chargers stunk at all three in one way or another in 2011, but it's not a stretch to believe they can excel in these crucial areas in 2012.
Phillip Rivers threw for a staggering 4,624 yards, but had 20 interceptions to go along with his 27 touchdowns last season, giving him a pedestrian 88.1 quarterback rating.
Rivers insisted there was nothing physically wrong with him, but with a ravaged offensive line he rarely looked comfortable in the pocket. In addition to the interceptions, Rivers also lost 5 fumbles and the Chargers finished -6 in turnover differential for the 2nd straight year. If Rivers can get his interceptions back down to his 2006-2010 average of 11.4, the Chargers should see at least a difference of +2 in the win column.
San Diego's defense dropped from 1st in yards allowed and 10th in Points Allowed in 2010 to 16th and 22nd respectively in 2011 after former defensive coordinator Ron Rivera bolted for Carolina and a head coaching job.
The additions of rookies Melvin Ingram (OLB/DE), Kendall Reyes (DT), and Brandon Taylor (S), with their first three selections in last April's draft as well as the free agent acquisitions of Jarrett Johnson (LB) and Aubrayo Franklin (DT) and Atari Bigby (S), show the Chargers are clearly concerned with improving the talent level on defense.
Wherever it comes from, the Bolts must improve upon last seasons marks of 32 sacks (T-23rd) and 4 Defensive Fumble Recoveries (T-30th) if they expect to be playing football in late January.
The other three teams in the AFC West are all flawed in their own ways, and there is no reason to believe the Chargers can't win the division. They are still in the 2nd tier in the AFC, but an 11-5 record with a home playoff game and you never know.
As we've seen over the last few years, 14 or 15 (or even 16) wins doesn't guarantee a Lombardi Trophy, but with an elite quarterback and what should be a much improved defense the Chargers can conceivably reach the conference championship game, but winning it would be an upset.
The decision to bring back one of the game's most second-guessed head coaches and a GM that's been unable or unwilling to retain impact players in recent years such as Drew Brees, Michael Turner, Darren Sproles, and Vincent Jackson is a roll of the dice at best. If the Chargers stumble out of the gate, Turner and Smith could be in the unemployment line before Halloween.
Injuries have already taken a toll during training camp with two key skill position players, Ryan Matthews and Vincent Brown, suffering a broken clavicle and ankle respectively. Matthews should be back by Week 2 at the latest but Brown's status for the season is in question. Losing three of his top offensive weapons from a year ago doesn't bode well for Rivers being able to play more efficiently.
Disciples of the Cold, Hard Football Facts
already know the most important stat in the history of the NFL is Passer Rating Differential (PRD)
Last year the Chargers were 17th in the league with a -3.81 PRD but were one of only four teams in the AFC to allow a Defensive Passer Rating above 90.0
(Buffalo, Denver, Indianapolis). Unless both of those rankings improve greatly, they only way they'll be in New Orleans in February is if they're giving out beads on Bourbon Street.
There are question marks at every level of the defense and huge contributions are going to be expected of rookies and first year free agents, which has led many coaches to new career paths.
The wheels could fall off the bus early as with games against Atlanta, Tennessee, New Orleans and Denver within the first six games. Although they're known for late-season rallies under Turner, a home loss to the Broncos on Monday night before their Week 7 bye could be the end. The Chargers' schedule only gets tougher as the season goes on and every game from Week 10 on is losable.
The AFC West will be a race to the end again this year, but the Chargers will find themselves looking up in the standings for most of the season. The Bolts will be walking dangerously close to the edge with a lack of depth and a mix of aging veterans and unproven youngsters.
Rivers is good enough to win a few on his own, but a 6-10 record and a last place finish will mark the end of an era of underachievement for Norv Turner in this worst case scenario.