Who is the team to beat in 08
A very bias fans perspective
(Disclaimer: I am not a writer; this BLOG will contain countless grammar and spelling errors amid a steady flow of run on and fragmented sentences)
I am a fan of NFL football. More importantly I am a fan of San Diego Chargers football. Right now I feel like it is Christmas Eve and I can't get to sleep because of all of the great presents that are under the tree just waiting to be opened. Finally the off season is over! Finally there is more to discuss than the soap operas that have become a spring and summer mainstay over the last few years. FINALLY a new season full of promise is upon us.
Off season is hell for me. I am a football info junky and there just isn't enough of it in the off season. During this drought we are forced to read countless pundints opinions on who is going to win what division and who will be in the Superbowl next year. While these columns and blogs make for some interesting reading, most are based more on lore and mystique than actual football facts.
Now I will not sit here and claim that I am any kind of expert on the X's and O's of professional football and as I admit clearly in my subtitle I am a bias fan of the Chargers but, anyone who doesn't have the Bolts as the favorite to win the Superbowl isn't paying very close attention to the facts.
The majority of the experts have the Patriots as the team to beat with the Colts a close second and the Chargers in third but almost as an afterthought. The main argument I hear for the Patriots is they have Tom Brady, Belichek and Randy Moss. Now Tom Brady is an exceptional QB, Bill is very good at teaching players how to play within their role and many give credit to Randy Moss as the major reason the team went undefeated during the regular season. I beg to differ though. If you look at the big picture it is easy to see that the Pats benifited from a mistake the Chargers made a few years ago. The true Bolts fan knows exactly which mistake I'm talking about, releasing Wes Welker. Welker is a PHENOMINAL slot receiver, who maybe benefitted from the snubbing he got from the Chargers because he plays with a huge chip on his shoulder. This year though I don't think he will be sneaking up on anyone like he did last year. The Patriots have, in my opinion, maybe four or five extremely gifted football players and then a bunch of role players. The defense is knowledgeable and each player knows their assignment and they are rarely out of position. This is a fundamentally sound team but, they had a lot of motivation to prove that it was their coach and not them that cheated and they also had the benefit of an extremely soft schedule played in the weakest division in football. My point is that they are not the unbeatable power house that most claim they are.
I think you can actually make a stronger case for the Colts. Peyton Manning is an extremely talented passer who is also a student of the game that digests film like no other. When he is in the pocket there is no one more apt at getting the ball to where it needs to be. However, over the last few years the Chargers seem to have found his Kryptonite. They have proven that when you apply steady pressure and keep him from staying comfortably in the pocket he will start making mistakes i.e. Cromartie's coming out party. They have a very talented corpse of wide receivers that are very hard to match up against as well as a very serviceable running back capable of catching the ball out of the backfield. Their defense seems to play up to the level of their all world safety Sanders when he is healthy and Freeney gives QB's nightmares. Like the Patriots this is a well coached and fundamentally sound team but also like the Patriots they have only a small handful of exceptionally talented players augmented by well coached role players.
Now lets take a look at the CHARGERS. Nearly every pundint out there says, after stating how unbeatable the Pats and Colts are, that the Chargers are the most talented team in football, and they're right. That alone is not the reason they should be the consensus pick for Superbowl favorite. They are also, in my opinion, the deepest team in football.
TALENT; Rivers is a great passer in the pocket and while he may not be the most mobile of QB's he is deadly accurate while moving outside the pocket. Last year he also showed that he is tough, gritty and unflappable.
DEPTH; Volek proved in the playoffs that we have a very capable and talented veteran that can come in and play without the offense missing a beat. Also, according to the reports I have read, Whitehurst could be a starter on many other teams.
TALENT; LT is hands down the best back in the league. Add to that the 50lb chip he will be carrying on his shoulder this year stemming from the grief he got over the AFC Championship game and mix in a passing attack that is now very healthy and I feel a 2,000 yard rushing season isn't out of the question.
DEPTH; Most don't think we have quality depth here. I disagree. Sproles is a phenomenal talent that gets overlooked simply because of his height. I hope that he keeps getting overlooked, by other teams anyway, because the Chargers know what a talent he is and he will be getting plenty of opportunities this season to showcase them. There are also two rookies on the roster that show a lot of promise, each bringing unique styles that could be very nice compliments to LT. While it really stings to see Turner leave I am happy for him, he now has a chance to make a name for himself, he deserves it.
TALENT; Chambers is a reliable veteran that excelled on a struggling Dolphins team. I think that he is going to have a career year in our offense based on the numbers he put up once he and Rivers got to know each other. Chambers presence last year took away some of the pressure from Jackson which allowed him to finally gain the confidence he needed to go along with his potential talent.
DEPTH; Like with the running backs, this is a position that a lot of experts see as not being very deep. I would say that we have good depth at wide receiver. Davis is a very talented receiver that will benefit from Chambers veteran guidance and should make an impact during his sophomore campaign. Naanee is also extremely talented and he brings the added value of being a clutch receiver. Osgood and Floyd are both big strong guys that on the rare occasions they are thrown to have been dependable.
TALENT; Gates who is hands down the best Tight End in football, sorry Whitten fans, appears to be making progress and everyone seems optimistic that he will be a go come opening day.
DEPTH; Manumaleuna is a primarily blocking tight end. Opposing defenses have an easier time spelling his name than trying to get past him. As a bonus he is one of the most athletic 300lb men in the NFL, and he can catch. Chandler has shown plenty of promise although he hasn't had much of an opportunity to show what he can do. By the way, Naanee can play this position too.
TALENT; Three Pro-Bowlers. This is an area in which the front office is extremely adept at finding raw talent for the coaching staff to develop. Hardwick and McNeil are the only two that were first day picks. Clarey did a good job last year and the club was smart enough to bring in a veteran to mentor and push him to improve.
DEPTH; Besides the two veterans brought in from free agency they are mostly practice squad guys, but the Chargers have seemed to get really good value out of those guys when they are needed.
TALENT; Williams is one of the most dominant Nose Tackles in the game. You cannot block him with one man so the O has to commit extra players to the line when he is in. Castillo needs to stay healthy because when he is there aren't many DE's better at rushing the passer. Olshansky, one of the strongest men in the NFL, is a beast against the run and last year his pass rushing improved as well.
DEPTH; This is one of the deeper units on the team. Bingham is a versatile player who is able to play both DT and DE. In recent years he has gotten plenty of experience as he is Williams relief and is the 2nd DT when we are in 4 man fronts. Cesaire is also a versatile player who has started, and done well, for both DE spots during injuries to Castillo and Olshansky. McKinney is almost as big as Williams and is being groomed to be his replacement.
TALENT; Merriman and Phillips are hands down the most dominant tandem of Outside Linebackers in the league. In fact many believe that Phillips is the more well rounded of the two as he is a dominant pass rusher, he is great in run support and he is great in coverage as well. Coopers suspension is more than a little unsettling. I hope that his talent wasn't a result of PE's. Wilhelm was solid as a starter last year and will be pushed by 2nd year player Anthony Waters.
DEPTH; This corpse is deep with talent with Siler, Tucker and Harris all contributing and showing flashes last season. As mentioned above we also have Waters who many think would have been a first round pick if not for an injury early in his senior year. The team also brought in Smith to add a savvy veteran for depth and leadership.
TALENT; Jammer has quietly been one of the most dominant shut down corners in the league for several years. While he isn't flashy and doesn't get a lot of glamorous interceptions, I've read many an interview where opposing coaches say that they have to game plan around him because when he is on a receiver they rarely catch the ball and just as rarely get into the endzone. Cromartie burst onto the scene last year and lived up to potential that made him a first rounder despite not playing his senior year. Cason and Oliver will battle for the nickel spot and both of them have tremendous upside. Weddle showed the world last year why he was worth trading up to get (where are all of those critics now?). Hart did a great job last season in his first as a starter helping to shut down the run and hauling in 5 interceptions.
DEPTH; Whoever loses out in the nickel battle will be a solid contributor in relief duty. Oliver is versatile and will probably play some safety, as will Gregory. Gordon is one of the fastest players on the team and could serve as a nickel if needed.
Kicker; Kaeding has improved each and every year. He also got over the playoff hump last year.
Punter; Scifres is by far the best punter in the league and should have been to several Pro-Bowls already.
I was going to do a breakdown of all three teams like I did for the Chargers, but I don't have the time or patients to do that for any team but the Bolts. Bottom line is, barring major injuries and catastrophic events, the CHARGERS are the team to beat in 2008. What makes that fact even sweeter is that this team is loaded to the gills and A.J. keeps locking them up to ensure we will be for some time.