After finishing a mediocre 7-9 for the 2012 season, the San Diego Chargers (finally) got rid of GM A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner, replacing them with Tom Telesco and Mike McCoy, respectively.
With four days left until the Draft, the league has been abuzz with waiver reclamations and free-agency signings.
Let's take a look at the Chargers' upcoming schedule and I'll do my best Carnac the Magnificent impression and predict how the Bolts will fare this season.
*Disclaimer: Writer releases herself from any and all liability and indemnity from anyone who uses her predictions to wager ridiculous sums of money in any future book bets.
Week 1: 9/1 vs. HOUSTON (Monday Night Football)
What a MNF opener; however, given the Texans' division-winning 12-4 season last year, the lack of support by Chargers' fans in purchasing tickets to support their team, the 10/15/2012 Monday Night "double-header" in San Diego where the Chargers blew a 24-0 lead at halftime to lose to the Broncos 35-24 (and from which I still have nightmares) likely still in the Chargers' collective mindset, a young man named J.J. Watt, and the Texans' recent additions of P Shane Lechler and S Ed Reed, I'm giving this one to Houston.
Week 2: 9/15 at Philadelphia
There are a lot of factors at play in this seemingly banal matchup. First, the Chargers do not historically fare well on the east coast. Secondly, Philadelphia's 2012 record was an abysmal 4-12. Third, the signing of former University of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly may give the Eagles the impetus they need but will he be able to direct the team in a positive direction this early in the season?
Whereas most quasi-logical people would pick Philadelphia in this matchup, being a long-time Chargers' fan and watching them lose games they were "supposed" to win (cough, Browns, cough) and vice versa, I am tempted to pick the Eagles; however, I will go with my gut and say that San Diego emerges victorious.
One interesting sidebar upon which I stumbled: The last four teams who have played the Eagles in Philadelphia's home opener have won the Super Bowl. Hey, a girl can dream, can't she?
Week 3: 9/22 at Tennessee
The Titans, who finished 6-10 last year, have already made some impressive offseason transactions by signing former Texans WR Kevin Walter, former 49ers TE Delanie Walker, and former Bills OG Andy Levitre who was widely regarded as the best pass-blocking guard in the NFL last season.
With the Swiss-cheese Chargers' secondary as it stands right now and the potential impact of Levitre on Chargers' QB Philip Rivers' already-worrisome passing game, along with RB Chris Johnson's ability to be fantastic, barring any draft-day miracle I will pick Tennessee to take this one.
Week 4: 9/29 v. DALLAS
The Cowboys extended QB Tony Romo's contract another six years, thus committing the team to ongoing mediocrity. The Cowboys' last three seasons with Romo were 8-8, 8-8, and 6-10, respectively. The Chargers are at home (which, as previously mentioned means little), but this game will ultimately come down to quarterback play and Rivers is better. Also, probability-wise the Chargers should win a few home games. Let this be one of them. Pick: San Diego.
Week 5: 10/6 at Oakland
Oakland's frenetic offseason activity has been heavily defense-oriented. With the loss of Lechler and WRs Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy, the Raiders' new QB Matt Flynn doesn't have many significant targets as of yet. Despite Oakland historically running well against San Diego, with RB Darren McFadden's propensity to injury (yes, I know Ryan Mathews has similar problems), I will take San Diego in this one.
Week 6: 10/14 vs. COLTS (Monday Night Football)
Yet another nationally-televised game for the Chargers. In addition to the aforementioned MNF fiasco last season, I needn't have to remind you about the Week 6 Sunday Night matchup in which QB Drew Brees made history by breaking Johnny Unitas' all-time TD record whilst beating the Chargers 31-24.
However, Brees isn't playing, thankfully. Regardless, the Colts' have acquired venerable veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck to mentor the young Andrew Luck, former Oakland WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, and former Bronco CB Cassius Vaughn to improve upon their impressive 11-5 record last season. Further, with the Chargers' propensity to enable opposing quarterbacks to perform last-minute heroics and Luck's capacity for just that, my pick is Indianapolis.
Week 7: 10/20 at Jacksonville
Jacksonville was truly horrible last season with a 2-14 record. In the offseason they acquired WR Mohamed Massaquoi from Cleveland and RB Justin Forsett, most recently with Houston to help a troubled offense. Even being an east coast game, the weather should be nice enough for San Diego to readily handle the Jaguars.
Week 8: Bye
I'm sure this will be most welcome.
Week 9: 11/3 at Washington
With RGIII expected to start the 2013 season after sustaining an ugly knee injury last year, can the Redskins build upon their division-winning 10-6 record?
It is highly doubtful that newly-hired senior executive A.J. Smith can wreck the Redskins in record time to give the Chargers a shot.
Additionally, this is another east coast matchup. There is no reason why the Redskins shouldn't win this game so that's why I am picking San Diego -- because the Chargers are always unpredictable.
Week 10: 11/10 v. DENVER
Three words: Manning to Welker. Coming off a division-winning 13-3 season and with the impressive offseason acquisitions thus far, Denver wins.
Week 11: 11/17 at Miami
The last-season 7-9 Dolphins just gave a ridiculous contract to former speedy-yet-inconsistent Pittsburgh WR Mike Wallace and also signed former Charger DT Vaughn Martin, former Ram WR Brandon Gibson (who has been slowly and steadily improving over the past several years), former Jet TE Dustin Keller, and re-signed WR Brian Hartline.
If second-year QB Ryan Tannehill continues to improve then the Dolphins may have a decent team in the making; however, I think San Diego will pull it off in a very close game.
Week 12: 11/24 at Kansas City
With Andy Reid as the Chiefs' new head coach, the signing of former 49er QB Alex Smith, the multi-year contract extension given to WR Dwayne Bowe, and a heavily-fortified linebacker corps amassed from free agency, the Chiefs will be better than their last-season 2-14 record.
Reid now has a quarterback who can run his west coast offense and the lack of a Chargers' successful pass rush and weak secondary will not bode well for San Diego. Kansas City has always played the Chargers' tough, especially at home. My pick: Kansas City.
Week 13: 12/1 vs. CINCINNATI
The Bengals were a quality playoff team last season with a 10-6 record and a strong defense. Even with the Chargers playing at home and the Rivers' historic success in December, I'm picking Cincinnati.
Week 14: 12/8 v. NY GIANTS
The New York Giants resemble Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with respect to home and away games, an over-reliance on its defense to cause turnovers, and Victor Cruz being unable to attract a free agency offer and currently in a negotiation stand-still with the Giants, the Chargers could pull out a win, particularly if San Diego plays conservatively and protects the ball. My pick: San Diego.
Week 15: 12/12 at Denver (Thursday Night Football)
Another nationally-televised game. Against the Broncos. In Denver. Sadly, I am forced to, once again, pick Denver.
Week 16: 12/22 v. OAKLAND
Continuing in the tradition of the Chargers' inconsistencies with the AFC West, I'll take Oakland, particularly since there's always one game the upstart Raiders pull out against "expert" predictions.
Week 17: 12/29 vs. KANSAS CITY
If every previous pick reaches fruition, a season-closing win against the Chiefs will enable the Chargers to finish the season 8-8. While still mediocre it does represent improvement over last season which is a positive factor with a new GM, head coach, and offensive coordinator. Coupled with Rivers' insane competitiveness, I think that San Diego will pull this one off.
Closing out the season with four-out-of-five home games may appear beneficial and likely a boon to other teams; however, with San Diego fans' waning support as evidenced by the increasing number of locally blacked-out games and their frustrating inconsistencies, such a finale is not likely to have any positive impact.
Improving from a 7-9 record in 2012 to an 8-8 one will demonstrate a step in the right direction. Even as a die hard Chargers' fan, I recognize San Diego's current state, needs, and shortcomings and absent any miraculous draft-day acquisitions, this team will continue to be mediocre as it rebuilds itself.
Let the criticisms begin!