Trendy picks to win the AFC West. An offense with an array of options. A defense dynamic and promising.
“I feel like this Charger team is probably the most talented Charger team I’ve played against,” a division rival said.
Yes, the Chargers have been here before. Just a year ago, to be precise.
See, those first two paragraphs were in reference to the 2017 Chargers, who, pumped full of optimism, immediately stormed the field … and lost four straight, their season buried before it had a chance to breathe.
That was Denver linebacker Von Miller who praised those Chargers, not unlike it was Kansas City coach Andy Reid who recently praised these Chargers, so effusively that he jokingly credited Philip Rivers’ longevity to the water in Southern California.
The Chargers enter their 2018 opener Sunday against the Chiefs in a position that feels quite similar to where they were in 2017 — until the games began and their road turned quickly uphill.
While another 0-4 start might seem unlikely in Year 2 of the franchise’s return to Los Angeles, last year’s flop no doubt arrived from the blindside, too.
“It’s a big game, especially with our start last year,” Rivers said. “Our emphasis has been on a faster start. That will be a key.”
Entering his 13th season as a starter, the Chargers’ quarterback also made a point to remind everyone that 15 games will follow Sunday, no matter how the Chargers fare against the two-time defending AFC West champions.
Nothing more than a single football game will have been won or lost by the time Monday morning arrives, to be sure. But breakfast will taste better for the team that’s still unbeaten.
“It’s a big game in the division,” Rivers said. “But it’s one of 16. It just happens to be the first one against the team that has been the champs the last handful of years.”
And the team that has tormented the Chargers of late. Kansas City has won the past eight games in this series, the Chargers’ most recent victory coming on Dec. 29, 2013.
Though none of those results will matter Sunday (“This game’s all about right now, not what you did in the past,” Reid says), the Chargers would seem to be the ones more likely to blink first, if it comes down to something so subtle.
Either way, trying to stop their playoff drought at four seasons, they will receive the early benefit of measuring themselves against an opponent in the exact spot where they long to be in late December.
“They’re the best team in our division,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said, noting Kansas City’s back-to-back titles. “I think right away we get to see where we stack up against the best.”
The Chargers will unveil their new center, Mike Pouncey, who is expected to bolster and gel their offensive line while bringing, as Lynn described it, “a little alpha dog to the front.”
They will also unleash Derwin James, their latest first-round draft pick, who was one of the promising stars of the preseason and is a potential future force in the defensive backfield.
They will be without the injured Joey Bosa and the suspended Corey Liuget but they will have a new kicker. And if you don’t think Caleb Sturgis could matter plenty, then you don’t remember what happened at the start of last season.
Something else that will be new Sunday at StubHub Center: Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs enter an inviting world of their own behind a young quarterback they believe holds their future, tucked under his powerful right arm.
“He has a cannon,” Chargers cornerback Trevor Williams said. “He can launch it. And he has weapons on the outside.”
There is video evidence of Mahomes throwing a football 80 yards in the air in college. Last month, in a preseason game against Atlanta, he hit Tyreek Hill with a pass that traveled nearly 69 yards on its own.
This game will mark just Mahomes’ second NFL start, meaning the Chargers will be facing a figure who remains as mysterious as he does mythical.
Their assignment is to solve things faster than they did last season. After losing their first four games, the 2017 Chargers won nine of their next 12, including the final five at StubHub Center.
“You can’t take the wins and losses from last year over to this year,” Lynn said. “I don’t even worry about that. I do believe you can bring the culture over. I like what I see from our guys from that perspective.”