WEEK ONE: CHARGERS @ BRONCOS
Bolts fans will be holding their collective breath as the Chargers travel to Mile High to take on division rival Denver Broncos in another season-opening, Monday-night divisional matchup. Before we get swept up in the hype and promise of the 2017 season, let’s remember that all divisional games are close and teams tend to play each other tough, resulting in highly-competitive contests that are usually decided by a field-goal or less. But wait, the Bolts Homers will be saying that, with the addition of WR Mike Williams and an upgraded offensive line, this “loaded” Chargers squad is going to march into Mile High and hang a 40 burger on the quarterback less Denver Broncos. Sound familiar? Not so fast if Von Miller, Aquib Talib, Derek Wolfe and C.J. Anderson have anything to say about it, just to name a few. Although the Broncos fell off the championship mark somewhat in 2016, that doesn’t mean they’ll repeat that performance in 2017. Or will they?
This game will be a stiff test for Forest Lamp, Dan Feeney, Joe Barksdale, and the newly- revamped offensive line. Can they run block and protect Phillip Rivers, or will the moment simply be too big for the rookies whose learning curve, by all estimates, will be a steep one. Will WR Mike Williams’ double-epidural, herniated disc issue be resolved by the season opener, or will the Bolts’ biggest offensive weapon be sidelined for this game, relegated to the role of armchair spectator? Can the Bolts get the running game going and open holes for Melvin “Flash” Gordon or will we see Gordon running straight into the first defender he can find for an average of two yards a carry?
But most importantly, will Phillip Rivers eliminate the inexcusable mistakes that plagued the Bolts’ 2016 campaign? Please, Phil! No ill-timed interceptions or inane sack fumbles that always seem to occur at the worst possible times in the game. While ESPN pundits keep repeating that none of these things are Phillip Rivers’ fault, just mere by-products of a “lack of talent” around him, there are glaring flaws in their logic. The quarterback position is arguably the single most important one in football. Rivers must limit mistakes and senseless turnovers for the Bolts to have a chance of winning this or any other game in 2017! If you don’t believe me, just ask former Chargers’ Center, Nick Hardwick. He knows Rivers must play better for the Bolts to win the AFC West and has openly said as much in his recent coverage of the team’s OTA’s and upcoming training camp on Chargers.com. These and other questions marks loom large in a game some would argue is a must win for the Bolts to get the 2017 regular season moving in the right direction. The good news is that Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and the defense will be ready and play well in this game, racking up a few sacks and making some plays in the secondary, but in the end, it won’t be enough to emerge with a “W.”
FINAL PREDICTION: Chargers lose a close one in Denver by a final score of 31-28 and head back to L.A. 0-1 overall, 0-1 in the division, and 0-1 on the road.
WEEK TWO: DOLPHINS @ CHARGERS
Here we go again. Another easy conference game against a mediocre opponent in the Dolphins who, after all, have to fly half way across the country to come and play us in our house, right? First of all, let’s reserve judgment on any talk of home field advantage at Stub Hub Center until we have empirical evidence that one will exist at all. Have Los Angelinos really embraced the Bolts’ “Fight for L.A.” or are most apathetic at best about the Chargers’ recent move to the City of Angels? Truth is that the Miami Dolphins have historically matched up well against Phillip Rivers and the Chargers, making the outcome of these contests almost as hotly-contested as divisional games. The silver lining here is that Ryan Tannehill can be very inconsistent and streaky, something Head Coach Adam Gase has been working on with his starting signal caller. Bolts fans can most likely count on Tannehill to throw two picks in this game or otherwise turn the ball over. Jay Ajayi and the Miami running game will surely test the Bolts tackling fundamentals, something that was not always in evidence last year, especially on the back end of the defense. Nevertheless, absent ill-timed turnovers by Phillip Rivers and the Bolts offense, the Chargers should contain the upstart fish and win their 2017 home opener at Stub Hub. Again though, nothing is easy when it comes to Chargers football, and this one will be no exception. Look for a close game with the Chargers prevailing in a tight ball game.
FINAL PREDICTION: Chargers do just enough to hold on and squeak out a narrow victory over the visiting Miami Dolphins by a final score of 17-14 in a game featuring a lot of “ground and pound” and superb defensive performances by both teams. Chargers move to a .500 (1-1) record on the season.
WEEK THREE: CHIEFS @ CHARGERS
The Chargers face all of their divisional opponents once and the Broncos twice in the first eight games of the 2017 season and this matchup with the always-tough Kansas City Chiefs will be another early test. Andy Reid comes to town with a “loaded” Chiefs roster that includes scat back sensation Tyreek Hill, a solid secondary led by All-Pro Safety Eric Berry, and regular season winning machine, Alex Smith, “managing” the game (or perhaps a locker room coupe may even bring rubber-band-armed Patrick Mahomes into the mix early in 2017?) Either way, the fact is that the Chiefs win games and have done so on a consistent basis, reaching the playoffs what seems like every season in recent years. Like all divisional opponents, the Chiefs tend to give the Chargers fits as well. For the Bolts’ playoff hopes to go from fantasy to reality, they must split contests with the Chiefs in 2017.
Like it or not, this is another must-win divisional game early in the season for the Bolts. The good news is that Rodger Goodell and the NFL desperately want the Chargers to succeed in L.A. and make it to the playoffs for the first time in a while, so the zebras will be pro-Chargers in this matchup, making the difference in a tight divisional game. Chargers fans will be licking their chops as all the bogus calls that went against their beloved Bolts in the past are inexplicably reversed, resulting in a “W” in the Bolts second home game at Stub Hub Center. Look for lots of offense by both teams and some exciting running plays, but in the end, the newly-anointed NFL media darlings prevail, setting up a December 16, late- season rubber match at Arrowhead Stadium that will undoubtedly have implications for the AFC West Crown. The Chargers’ pass rush will harass Alex Smith, prompting some Chiefs fans to chant, “Bring in Mahomes!” That is if he’s not already the de facto starter by week 3 anyway.
FINAL PREDICTION: Lightning flashes across the sky at Stub Hub Center as it all comes together for the Bolts in their second home game of 2017 (with a little help from the refs). Bolts win their first divisional game by a final score of 27-24, moving to a (2-1) record on the season.
WEEK FOUR: EAGLES @ CHARGERS
After a couple divisional games and a conference matchup against the Dolphins, the Chargers begin their quest to sweep the NFC East, another highly-competitive division, with a home game against Doug Pederson’s Philadelphia Eagles. With second year QB phenom Carson Wentz at the helm, Pederson’s squad is truly “loaded” with talent and ready to compete. Former New England Patriots RB LeGarrett Blount has also been added to shore up the Eagles ground attack. Have been watching the Eagles closely the past couple of seasons, and they seem poised for a playoff run of their own. With a fast-paced offense and aggressive defense, Philly is peaking. This squad could beat just about any team in the league on any given Sunday. Translation: big problems for the Los Angeles Chargers. In a game featuring high-flying offense that resembles a good-old-fashioned-shoot-out, the Bolts fall to a loaded NFC East team that was close to putting it all together in 2016. Chargers rookies get a baptism by fire as a determined Eagles team overpowers and “out-physicals” the bolts on their own turf in front of close to 30,000 fans. The Eagles defense is underrated and will do just enough to win the game. Charger fans will be crying in their milk, but just relieved that this one’s not a divisional or conference game.
FINAL PREDICTION: Bolts put up 35 in a losing effort as Carson Wentz and the high-flying Eagles win a physical one on the road at Stub Hub Center, serving notice to the rest of the league that Philly is back! Look out Cowboys and G-Men, there’s a new Sheriff in town, unfortunately for the Chargers. Bolts fall to the Eagles by a final score of 38-35, moving to a .500 (2-2) record on the season.