Chargers: Inside Slant

The Chargers are heading to prime time -- on Monday night, no less. <br><br> The question remains if the team is ready for such a featured game, which will come Oct. 27 against the Miami Dolphins at Qualcomm Stadium.

"I'm really, really excited about our football team being on Monday night," coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "It is big for our players because they know everyone around the league is watching."

The question remains will the rebuilding Chargers be worth watching? They haven't been of late -- seven straight years without a playoff appearance -- which is why they haven't graced "Monday Night Football" since 1996.

But the executives at ABC-TV are speculating the Chargers could be improved this year, hence a return to the Monday night spotlight.

The rest of the team's schedule, which was released this week by the NFL, shows the Chargers jumping into the thick of the AFC West slate in the first two weeks. Schottenheimer makes another return to Kansas City in the opener on Sept. 7. The following Sunday, the Chargers open at home while entertaining the Denver Broncos.

If things go right, the Chargers can get a jump on their divisional rivals. If things go south, the Chargers could be two games out heading into Week 3, which is another home game against the Ravens.

"I think that's good," Schottenheimer said of the two opening games against his AFC West cohorts. "It lets us find out where we are."

Where they left off wasn't very encouraging, as the team dropped its final four games that capped a skid of losing seven of its last nine.

But back to the 2003 schedule. There's a stretch of games midway through that grabs one's attention. The Chargers have four road games in six weeks, traveling to Oakland, Jacksonville, Cleveland and Chicago. The only thing interrupting that run is a bye on Oct. 12 and that Monday night game with the Dolphins.

"I'm comfortable with that because of the bye breaking it up," Schottenheimer said.

What isn't as comforting are the final three games. If the Chargers are hoping to make a rare postseason run, they will have to battle the Packers, go to Pittsburgh, and finish with the Raiders are home.

That's three 2002 divisional winners in three games.

"I like that four of our final six are at home," the optimistic Schottenheimer said.

The cumulative record of the Chargers' opponents is hardly daunting at 96-111. That includes matchups with some of last year's worst teams: Chicago (4-12), Cincinnati (2-14) and Detroit (3-13).

The team will face only four playoff teams (Oakland twice), but three of those games come in December. The Chargers, in the last three years, sport a 1-13 December record.


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