Los Angeles didn’t care about what the Chargers did last season and certainly didn’t spend much time thinking about what they could have done.
As the team’s quarterback, Philip Rivers had more of a vested interest in the team. So in the aftermath of the Chargers’ first season back in Los Angeles, Rivers was haunted by one particular question.
He wondered a little more as he watched the playoffs.
More specifically, what if the Chargers had reached the playoffs?
“Last year was one of those where I really believed if we would have gotten in, we would have had a real chance to win it all,” Rivers said.
With defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram terrorizing opposing quarterbacks, the Chargers won nine of their last 12 games, six of their last seven.
The Rams won the NFC West. The Chargers were 9-7 and a win short of reaching the playoffs but finished last season as the best football team in Los Angeles.
“We’re 0-0,” Rivers said, “but I do believe we have a chance to have a special team.”
They better if they intend to make themselves relevant in Los Angeles.
As it is, the Chargers continue to face a resistance to them on the part of the city. This town still belongs to the Raiders and, as such, the Chargers are still viewed as division rivals.
Their temporary home at the 27,000-seat StubHub Center offers a uniquely intimate place to watch NFL games, but the scarcity of seats and high ticket prices have limited their ability to extend their reach.
That won’t change with an AFC West title, which they should win.
That will change only with a Super Bowl.
And so here are the Chargers, two seasons from the relocation date that really matters, the opening of the Inglewood facility they will share with the Rams.
What they have to do between now and then is to build a fan base devoted enough to pay licensing fees, which will cost as much as $75,000 for premium seats.
The Chargers won’t convince their fans to open their wallets with their logo or history. They can do that only by winning.
The elements are in place to do that.
The Chargers are a model of stability in what has become an otherwise chaotic division.
The Oakland Raiders’ new coach hasn’t coached in a decade and is said to be showing his team film from the 1970s. The Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos have new quarterbacks and traded standout defensive players to the Rams.
The AFC as a whole feels wide open compared to the NFC, where the Rams will have to compete with the likes of the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers for a place in the Super Bowl.
There’s also no reason that the Chargers should duplicate the 0-4 start last year from which they never recovered. They aren’t adjusting to a new city. They don’t have to get used to a new stadium. And they aren’t learning to play under a new coach.
“I can say I definitely feel a little bit more comfortable, knowing what to expect, not moving and not living out of boxes,” coach Anthony Lynn said.
At the same time, it’s fair to wonder whether the end of last season was a mirage.
Of their nine wins, only two came against teams with winning records: at home against the Buffalo Bills in Week 11 and on the road over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 12.
Their triumph over the Bills deserved an asterisk, as that was the game in which Bills coach Sean McDermott made the inexplicable decision to start rookie Nathan Peterman at quarterback in place of Tyrod Taylor. Peterman was benched at halftime after five of his passes were intercepted.
And it should also be pointed out that the Chargers have lost their last eight games against the Chiefs. Their last victory over the defending division champions was in 2013.
The Chargers should reveal early on whether they will live down to their reputation as losers or break from their tradition of disappointing anyone foolish enough to believe in them. They will open the season against the Chiefs.
The game will be played at StubHub Center. The visiting quarterback will be Patrick Mahomes, who has made only one career start, in Week 17 of last year.
The Chargers should win. And they should go on to win their division, their conference and the part of the city that hasn’t chosen a football team.
If not, they will spend another season unwanted and ignored, still visitors in their no-longer-new home.