The NFL’s San Diego franchise has left their home of 55 years to move north due to contentious issues over getting a new stadium. In a way, it is a homecoming for the Los Angeles Chargers who played their initial season in the old AFL in the City of Angels.
Look for 2017 to be a tumultuous year as the lightning bolts adapt to their new home and a temporary home in the ridiculously small StubHub Center which only holds around 30,000 fans. It will be at least 2019 until the posh new digs that lured the team back to its birthplace is ready.
Last year’s 5-11 record has to go down as yet another major disappointment in the Phillip Rivers era and the prolific passer is closer to the end of his storied career than ever.
Rivers is clearly showing signs of losing it due to age, his yardage and touchdowns are still great but there are more turnovers with many of his picks coming at crucial times.
If there was ever a quarterback who has been consistently victimized by bad luck it’s Rivers. His teams have made the playoffs only five times and it isn’t going to be six.
Football Outsiders 2017 Almanac (a must-have for hardcore NFL fans) has an amazing table in the just released edition, a mock BINGO card of all of the “Crazy Philip Rivers Losses” over the course of his career. The man is snakebit, whether it be untimely turnovers, bad calls, defensive collapses or crappy kicking, he is literally cursed.
Which brings us to Los Angeles. Rivers wasn’t enthused about the move – he has eight kids – and in what promises to be a test of endurance, the family man will continue to maintain his residence in San Diego and commute to L.A.
Whether the arrangement lasts or just hurries him toward retirement is unknown but the quarterback who has surpassed franchise legend Dan Fouts for all-time passing yards and touchdowns may not be much longer for the game.
Not that you could blame him, the Chargers have been God-awful in recent years and during the four-year tenure of now departed head coach Mike McCoy, lost a total of 16 games in which they had fourth quarter leads.
McCoy is now gone back to Denver to the offensive coordinator job that he is better suited for but it’s hard to see new top man Anthony Lynn having any worse results in clutch time.
The team will try to capitalize on running back Melvin Gordon’s breakthrough season in 2016 to keep the pressure off of Rivers and the defense. Gordon followed up a stinkeroo of a rookie year with an impressive sophomore season in which he emerged as a multi-purpose threat. They will need more of that this year.
The Chargers have proven to be one of the most injury-prone teams in the league over the years and that will have to change for a return to competitiveness although it’s not looking good early on.
Lynn’s system will hopefully minimize the times that Rivers has to throw the ball and cut down on the interceptions. A healthy set of options at receiver should also contribute IF they can ever get that way. The injury curse has already struck as L.A.’s top draft pick, former Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams suffered a herniated disc in his back that will keep him out of training camp. It’s a bad omen for the team what has had to rely on the great tight end Antonio Gates as Rivers’ go-to guy. Gates though has been bitten by the injury bug in recent years and despite his excellent career, is 37 years-old now and on the downside.
The line has also been a problem and the Chargers’ big offseason acquisition, tackle Russell Okung was a penalty ridden turnstile during his stint with the division rival Denver Broncos last year. High second rounder Forrest Lamp went down with a torn ACL in training camp and will miss the season. Things aren’t looking good on this front.
San Diego’s defensive deficiencies have been another reason why Rivers has never achieved any playoff success. Like Dan Fouts, he has too often had to simply try to outscore his opponents and while that can work in the short-term, the adage has never been truer that defense wins championships.
Lineman Joey Bosa is the only real stud on San Diego’s defense so it’s probably fair to say that the Chargers are in somewhat of a rebuilding mode.
So, what does it all mean?
The Chargers are likely destined for the AFC West cellar as the Oakland Raiders are clearly the class of the division now and Kansas City is trying to make one last run before making major changes. They could possibly edge out the quarterback-challenged Broncos but even that will be a pretty tall order given the tumult and location change.
Philip Rivers really has deserved better than this team and possibly secretly wishes that the team that originally drafted him – the New York Giants – didn’t swap him for Eli Manning in 2004.