Scouting the Schedule: Chargers


The Chargers have won four consecutive AFC West titles, and five of six, have won the AFC’s top seed two times since 2006 and registered three playoff wins over the last three years. And that’s why the heat seems to be on in San Diego. They know it too — As A.J. Smith said in an April addition of the Sunday Notes: “When will be a championship team? When we win it, and not before that.”

To learn more about the Bolts — the second opponent after the bye for the Patriots, in the midst of a brutal mid-season stretch — and their ongoing quest to break through, we enlisted veteran San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Kevin Acee (check out his work here and here). Here’s Part 5 of our series …

Where they’re good: Their quarterback has been among the top two or three in the NFL the past two seasons. They have a lot of players who can catch the ball and one of the league’s most dynamic role players in Darren Sproles.

The big camp questions:
Is OLB Shawne Merriman healthy? Who will emerge as the No.1 nose tackle? Does Steve Gregory or rookie (fourth-rounder) Darrell Stuckey win the job at strong safety? What receiver steps up to at least partially compensate for the expected loss of Vincent Jackson (who is expected to hold out well into the season and could be traded)? Left tackle Marcus McNeill is holding out as well, so will it be veteran Tra Thomas or young Brandyn Dombrowski who starts for him?

This needs to happen to win big: McNeill needs to come back, or Thomas or Dombrowski needs to surprise. A quarterback must be upright and alive to be effective … Antoine Cason, taking over at right cornerback for Antonio Cromartie, needs to make some gamechanging plays, which the Chargers have lacked from the corner position the past two seasons …

Where they stack up: The Chargers have won at least five division games each of the past four seasons and likely remain the best team in the weak AFC West, though it is widely believed Oakland got better. The playoffs are considered a given. But the feeling in San Diego is that it’s Super Bowl or bust for a team that has been to the playoffs five of the past six seasons and made it as far as the AFC Championship game just once.

Wednesday: Bengals
Thursday: Jets
Friday: Bills
Yesterday: Ravens
Today: Chargers

Tomorrow: Vikings


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