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PFT 2019 storyline No. 26: Was last year Philip Rivers’ last, best chance?

Mike Florio and Chris Simms look at the ripple effects that would've occurred if the Chargers had held on to beat the Patriots in the 2006 Divisional playoff game.

In only their second season back in L.A., the Chargers had a season to remember. The campaign ended in disappointment, with a divisional-round loss at New England, the Chargers’ first loss of the entire year away from Los Angeles.

Citing the close, hard-fought nature of most games, quarterback Philip Rivers has said that the Chargers could have been anywhere from 16-0 to 6-10. Which makes their ability to win 12 and to make it to the playoffs impressive, but which also raises real questions as to whether they can do it again.

It’s incredibly difficult for an NFL team to piece together, week by week, a special season, to have it end abruptly in a playoff game that was over barely after it began, and to start all over again the next season, from 0-0. An ugly or close loss or two in September can derail everything, creating a sense that this year simply won’t be nearly as special as last year, and providing a reminder that 12-4 can indeed sink to 8-8 or worse.

The broader question is whether last year is as special as it’s ever going to be for Rivers, who’s getting closer and closer to the end of the road and who may have a hard time getting as close as he did last year.

Really, the heartbreaking loss didn’t come in mid-January as much as it came in late December, when the Chargers lost on a Saturday night at home to the Ravens, preventing the Chargers from winning the AFC West and capturing the No. 1 seed. That’s the key to setting the stage for a Super Bowl run, something that Rivers has had only a couple of legitimate prior chances to accomplish and that these Chargers may have a very hard time duplicating in 2019.

They’ll be tested right out of the gates, with a visit from the Colts, a trip to Detroit, and a home game against the Texans. Challenges are looming against the Steelers, at Chicago, against the Packers, and of course twice against the Chiefs -- including a return to Arrowhead Stadium in Week 17. They have plenty of talent, they have excellent coaching, and another playoff appearance isn’t a stretch. However, Rivers may never get another shot at a Super Bowl like the one he got last year. Whether the Chargers collectively can do it is a significant storyline for 2019.