2015 AFC preview: San Diego Chargers
From now until the New England Patriots begin training camp, Phil Perry looks at the 15 other AFC teams: The biggest question they face heading into the season, their story line on offense, their story line on defense, and their "threat level" to the Patriots.
Today's opponent: The San Diego Chargers.
THE BIG STORY
Is there a moving day on the horizon?
It's been a weird offseason for the Chargers, and the future of the franchise is still in limbo.
Team owner Dean Spanos -- as well as Raiders owner Mark Davis -- met with Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti to discuss re-location, and it seems as though it's a matter of when not if the Chargers will be playing in the City of Angels.
All the talk of a move reportedly had Philip Rivers bent out of shape and looking for a trade, but the 33-year-old was not moved before the draft, and he's set to be behind center in San Diego for his 12th NFL season.
With Rivers running an offense that features a couple of new additions, the Bolts should be playoff contenders in the AFC, but it's a wonder how the uncertain future of the team will affect the on-the-field product. Will Rivers push to be moved, or is he willing to play out the season for the Chargers regardless of how things go? Will interest or attendance wane at Qualcomm Stadium?
Regardless of what the team is able to accomplish between the lines this season, it looks like the specter of a move to L.A. will loom over everything.
OFFENSIVE STORY LINE TO WATCH
How will the Chargers cope without Antonio Gates?
San Diego got a bit of a throwback type of season from its veteran tight end in 2014. He caught 12 touchdowns after reeling in just three in 2013, his first double-digit touchdown season since 2010.
Now that Gates will miss the first four games of the season after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, the Chargers red-zone offense could use a boost.
No. 2 tight end Ladarius Green has the size and athletic ability to produce near the goal line, and wideout Keenan Allen will have an opportunity this year to make up for what was somewhat of a letdown in his sophomore campaign.
Rookie first-round running back Melvin Gordon could be the beneficiary of whatever touches open up in Gates' absence. He gives the team a potentially dynamic every-down back who could bring some balance to an offense that has long relied on the Rivers-to-Gates connection.
DEFENSIVE STORY LINE TO WATCH
Can a talented secondary keep the Chargers in contention?
San Diego was right in the middle of the pack in terms of points allowed last season (28.1 points per game, 13th overall) and ninth in total yards. The Chargers could maintain those numbers and potentially improve upon them given their secondary.
Corners Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett may not match the level of the duo featured by their division rivals in Denver, but when healthy they're a formidable pair. And with safety Eric Weddle -- a first-team All-Pro last season -- behind them, they could give opposing passing games fits.
Defensive end Corey Liuget is a good player, and linebacker Melvin Ingram can be a productive pass-rusher, but the success of this defense will be dependent upon how the secondary plays.
Because Weddle is in a contract year, the safe bet is that he'll do all he can to make sure he follows up last season with another one like it. He'll have millions of reasons to.
THREAT LEVEL: HIGH
Whether he's OK with what looks like an impending move to Los Angeles or not, the Chargers still have one of the top quarterbacks in the league in Rivers. Playing behind an improved offensive line -- stealing Orlando Franklin from Denver via free-agency represents a significant upgrade -- and alongside Gordon should help make Rivers even more dangerous.
That said, as of right now, the Patriots would very likely be seen as the favorites if these two clubs met in the postseason. San Diego's offensive firepower in the passing game seems limited, and defensively the Chargers would struggle to match up with Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, as most teams do. Talented as Weddle is, there's only so much a 5-foot-11 safety can do to check a 6-6 tight end.