Every team starts Week 1 undefeated and thinking Super Bowl, the players, like so many of the fans, all in on fantasy football.
But the coach of the Chargers played in the NFL, too, and understands that even on bright and sunny opening weekend there’s a dark reality that hangs over this world.
“Let’s be real,” Anthony Lynn said. “There’s only one winner in this league. That’s what I love about the NFL. When it’s all said and done, there are going to be 31 losers and one winner.
“It doesn’t matter if you lost in the Super Bowl or didn’t make the playoffs. If you’re not holding that trophy, in my opinion, you didn’t succeed. We look forward to pursuing that opportunity. We look forward to doing it together. That’s the joy we all get, each and every day.”
The chase for Lynn and the Chargers begins at 1 p.m. Sunday against Indianapolis at Dignity Health Sports Park.
In their most recent game, they were relegated to being losers by the only team — by Lynn’s assessment — that won in the 2018 season, the New England Patriots.
The Chargers were embarrassed that January day in Foxborough, Mass., falling behind by 31 points and tumbling from the divisional round of the playoffs.
Now they’re back — healthier but far from whole — and ready to again seek the franchise’s first Super Bowl title, in its 60th season of existence.
“We wouldn’t be out here giving 100% effort every single day if we didn’t believe we had a chance to compete for a Super Bowl,” defensive end Joey Bosa said. “And that’s our goal … anything less than that is not good enough.”
The Chargers return most of the roster that produced a 12-4 regular-season record and then won only the franchise’s second playoff game since 2008.
But who’s missing against the Colts will be a story, as well. All-Pro safety Derwin James (foot) and two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung (blood clots) are out.
Running back Melvin Gordon, another two-time Pro Bowl selection, also will be absent as his contract holdout reaches its 46th day.
And the Chargers likely will be without Michael Badgley, who, as a rookie a year ago, brought stability to a kicking position that had turned chaotic, almost comical. He has a groin problem, his official status listed as doubtful.
Still, the Chargers have talent and depth. According to safety Adrian Phillips, they have something else that’s important when dealing with such uneven circumstances.
“It’s beyond just belief,” he said. “We know the players that we have. Everybody that lines up believes, ‘You put me in position to make the play to win the game, I’m going to make it.’
“We’ve got confidence in everybody we line up out there. ‘Just do what got you here. You were a baller ever since you were a kid. Just do what got you here and go out and play.’ ”
The Chargers made a bunch of plays when it mattered most last season. They won five games decided in the final minute — three on defense, one on offense and one on special teams.
The stressful success seemed to build upon itself until the Chargers reached a point where they simply expected to seize the moments that determined each weekly outcome.
It was impressive and quite a shift from recent history.
“My rookie year, we lost all those games, all the close ones,” said running back Austin Ekeler, who’s entering his third season. “That’s literally what separates the league — who’s winning the close games. That’s something we have to build back up to. It’s a new season.”
In the Colts, the Chargers will face an opponent that also finished the 2018 regular season rolling and then won a playoff game.
But Indianapolis already suffered a significant and stunning loss when franchise quarterback Andrew Luck retired last month because of health concerns.
As several of the Chargers noted in recent days, that’s life in the unrelenting NFL, where adversity is always just a snap away and the margin between success and failure so often is goal-line thin.
“You don’t control winning in this league,” Lynn said. “I really believe that. You control being at your best. You control your attitude and effort, your preparation. I think if we all focus on that and not get distracted I like our chances.”
Lynn preaches to his players the importance of the week of work that precedes each game. He tells them to go out on Sundays and just play, trusting in the time they’ve invested.
And, after nearly six weeks of preparation, it all starts anew Sunday, when the Chargers begin to find out whether they’re destined to be winners or losers in 2019.
“We could have a better football team this year and not as good a record as last year,” Lynn said. “We gotta come together and start building all over again. We have to keep things in perspective and do everything we can to get to that tournament.”